SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Local News

September 10, 2013

Teen admits role in Beverly slaying

Plea agreement includes 12-15 years in state prison

BEVERLY — A Beverly teenager pleaded guilty yesterday to charges of manslaughter and assault and battery with a dangerous weapon in the St. Patrick’s Day 2011 slaying of a Beverly man.

Adam Martin, now 19, was 17 when he and another teen, Sajan “Sage” Christensen, then 18, agreed to meet 26-year-old James “J.P.” Vernazzaro for a fight at Balch Park off Cabot Street.

Martin yesterday admitted to striking Vernazzaro at least once in the head and on his hip with an aluminum baseball bat that he’d brought to the confrontation, during which Christensen is charged with stabbing Vernazzaro five times.

Under the terms of a plea agreement, the original first-degree murder charge was reduced to manslaughter, and Martin will serve 12 to 15 years in state prison, to be followed by five years of probation.

Christensen, meanwhile, is scheduled to stand trial next week on a charge of first-degree murder.

Salem Superior Court Judge Howard Whitehead accepted the agreement between Martin and prosecutors yesterday during a hearing where family members and friends of Vernazzaro filled one side of the courtroom.

The other side of the courtroom was empty.

The teens were residents of Blaine House in Beverly, a now-shuttered residential program for troubled teens aging out of foster care. Vernazzaro was a carnival worker and sometime amateur wrestler.

The dispute centered around a girl, Melissa Hicks, who was 17 at the time. Hicks was also charged in the case, as an accessory after the fact; her trial is scheduled for later this year.

Prosecutor Kristen Buxton told the judge that all three teens had been drinking when Vernazzaro called Hicks. Christensen, who had once dated the girl, became “enraged” by the phone call, said Buxton.

That touched off a series of phone calls back and forth, and eventually a challenge thrown down by the teens.

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