SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

May 20, 2011

Three teens indicted in beating death

By Paul Leighton
Staff writer

BEVERLY — A grand jury yesterday indicted two teenage boys on first-degree murder charges and a teenage girl on an accessory to murder charge in the St. Patrick's Day stabbing and beating death of a Beverly man.

Sajan Christensen, 18, and Adam Martin, 17, are accused of killing James "J.P." Vernazzaro, 26, in a dispute over a girl at Balch Playground on March 17.

Melissa Hicks, 17, has been indicted on a charge of being an accessory to murder after the fact, according to Essex District Attorney spokesman Steve O'Connell. O'Connell said Hicks' alleged role in the killing will be disclosed at the arraignment, which is scheduled for May 26 in Salem Superior Court.

Christensen, Martin and Hicks were all residents of a group home on Blaine Avenue in Beverly run by Supporting and Assisting Independent Living (SAIL), a program for at-risk teens.

Prosecutors say Martin and Christensen had been exchanging phone calls with Vernazzaro that day and that the argument escalated into a challenge to fight.

They met up at Balch Playground, where prosecutors say Vernazzaro was struck with a baseball bat and stabbed with a knife. Police found Vernazzaro unconscious with stab wounds to his back and chest, as well as wounds to his head.

Defense lawyers say Christensen and Martin acted in self-defense.

Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2675 or by email at pleighton@salemnews.com.