SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Local News

January 15, 2013

Do parents need to be there during questioning?

Lawyer for teen, 17, charged in slaying argues police should have called adult

BEVERLY — Adam Martin had turned 17 six weeks before the night of March 17, 2011, the night he and a second person, Sajan Christensen, 18, became suspects in the beating and stabbing death of a Beverly man.

Legally, both teens were no longer considered juveniles under Massachusetts law. So when Beverly and state police detectives questioned them, they did not first have to notify a parent or guardian and allow that adult to be present, as they would have if the two were under 17.

Now, Martin’s lawyer is challenging that, pointing to last June’s ruling by the Supreme Court that held that life sentences without parole for those under 18 at the time a crime is committed are unconstitutional.

Lawyer Jeff Karp argued yesterday that the same logic used by the high court in concluding that the brains of teenagers are still developing and are prone to be more “impetuous” or susceptible to suggestion, and less able to understand long-term consequences, ought to also apply while a teenage suspect is being interrogated by police.

“It’s instructive,” Karp argued yesterday.

The high court, in those cases “spent a lot of time discussing brain science. The Supreme Court analyzed the current thinking about how juveniles make decisions.”

Martin and Christensen were residents of a nearby group home for troubled teens who were “aging out” of foster care when, sometime around 9 p.m. on that St. Patrick’s Day, they met James “J.P.” Vernazzaro, 27. The teens and Vernazzaro had been arguing about a girl the teenagers knew, who also lived in the group home.

The three had exchanged messages earlier in the day and agreed to meet that evening at the Balch Street Playground on Cabot Street.

Prosecutors say the pair attacked Vernazzaro; lawyers for Martin and Christensen say they acted in self-defense against the older, larger man. Martin confessed to striking Vernazzaro with a bat, according to police.

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