, Salem, MA

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October 11, 2013

Jury deliberates in Beverly slaying


That, argued the defense, made Christensen likely to misread situations and afraid to trust an adult to help.

“I’m not making an excuse for him,” Buso told jurors. “I’m trying to say you should use it to understand where his mind was that day.”

Christensen, haunted by years of abuse and neglect during his childhood, had become “stuck in the moment,” unable to rationally assess the situation, Buso argued.

Buxton, the prosecutor, acknowledged the “horrifying” abuse experienced by Christensen, and said there’s no reason to disbelieve that it left “deep scars” on his psyche.

Still, Christensen had formed a loving bond with his second adoptive parents, received years of therapy, was doing well in school, played sports, and had even just had his first serious girlfriend (co-defendant Melissa Hicks, who is charged as an accessory after the fact), she argued.

“He still had the capacity to make good decisions,” suggested the prosecutor. And bad ones.

She argued that the abuse in his past had made him angry. “His life experience made him volatile and explosive, and on this night, lethally dangerous,” Buxton told the jury.

During his closing, Buso, who had to acknowledge that Christensen lied to police repeatedly, argued that his expressed disbelief to the detectives over Vernazzaro’s death was genuine and indicated that Christensen had no intention of killing Vernazzaro that evening.

“It’s utter disbelief,” Buso said.

Buxton also argued that the disbelief was authentic. But the prosecutor suggested another reason: Christensen was surprised at the news because he’d seen Vernazzaro dying in the park, “a death scene” of the victim bleeding from chest wounds, including one to the heart, and gasping for air, then later was told by a friend that Vernazzaro was in the hospital.

And both lawyers argued over who was the aggressor in the situation.

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