, Salem, MA

Local News

September 10, 2013

Teen admits role in Beverly slaying

Plea agreement includes 12-15 years in state prison


The three teens, all of them now intoxicated, made a stop at the Burger King on Rantoul Street, a few blocks away, seeking backup for the fight, as the calls continued back and forth, Buxton told the judge. Eventually they made their way to the park.

Vernazzaro, shirtless, was there, with a friend.

Martin swung the bat at Vernazzaro’s head, and may have taken another swing at his head before striking the older man’s hip, said the prosecutor.

Witnesses told police Christensen appeared to be hitting Vernazzaro in the chest and back, said Buxton.

But he was holding a knife, and a medical examiner concluded that Vernazzaro was stabbed five times in the back and chest, the fatal wound delivered to his heart.

One person at the scene eventually called 911, but by then it was too late, said the prosecutor.

The scene is just half a mile from Beverly Hospital, she noted.

As the prosecutor read the facts, Vernazzaro’s sister, Mary Tower, wept.

In a victim-impact statement read by the prosecutor, she recalled her brother’s “big heart.”

“We learned how quickly your future can change in the blink of an eye,” Tower wrote.

“As a young man, J.P. didn’t always make the greatest decisions,” his sister wrote, alluding to Vernazzaro’s brushes with the law, “but he had a big heart. He was always trying to guide his nieces and nephews to make better decisions than he had.”

Just three weeks after his son was killed, James R. Vernazzaro, 68, who had been ailing, died, broken-hearted, his daughter said in the statement.

Both Martin and Christensen had struggled with mental health issues in the years leading up to the killing, an issue expected to be raised by Christensen when he stands trial.

Martin told the judge yesterday that he’s been hospitalized for bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder and attention deficit disorder.

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