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October 8, 2013

Doctor says teen was depressed, suffered PTSD

BEVERLY — The Brookline psychiatrist who treated Sajan “Sage” Christensen for more than three years, until just months before Christensen was charged in the stabbing death of a Beverly man, told jurors yesterday that Christensen suffered from depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and reactive attachment disorder.

But Dr. Steven Nickman was barred from testifying about the sources of those conditions, after the judge presiding over Christensen’s trial agreed with prosecutors that such testimony would be hearsay.

Instead, Christensen’s attorney, Ray Buso, will have to call other witnesses, including Christensen himself, to describe the abuse, neglect and turmoil during his childhood that, the defense argues, led to his decision to arm himself for a fight with James “J.P.” Vernazzaro.

Christensen, now 20, was 18 when he and a second teen, Adam Martin, then 17, agreed to a fight with Vernazzaro, 26.

Vernazzaro died from a stab wound to the heart, one of five slashes or stab wounds inflicted during the encounter.

Nickman, who is affiliated with Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard University, treated Christensen from 2007 until about four months before the stabbing, while he was still living with his adoptive parents, Dean Christensen and Jane Olingy, in Wilmington.

He diagnosed the teenager with three conditions, including reactive attachment disorder, a condition that occurs in children who have had significant instability in their lives and no consistent caretaker, like some adopted children. They lack an ability to form connections or trust others, the doctor said.

But when Buso tried to elicit testimony about the details of what led to the diagnosis, Judge Howard Whitehead decided to ask for a preview outside the jury’s presence.

The doctor described how he’d been told Christensen was placed in a Russian orphanage at the age of 41/2 and later adopted by an American teacher, Stephen Myers.

Myers later lost custody of the boy amid concerns about sexual misconduct with children, something that led Christensen to question Myers’ motivation for adopting him.

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