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October 11, 2013

Christensen guilty of manslaughter in Beverly death

SALEM —

A Salem Superior Court jury this afternoon found Sajan "Sage" Christensen guilty of voluntary manslaughter in the death of a Beverly man 2 1/2 years ago. 

Christensen, 20, was one of two teens charged in the fatal March 17, 2011 stabbing of James "J.P." Vernazzaro, 26, inside Balch Park, near Beverly's Cummings Center. 

Sentencing was set for Oct. 21.

The three had agreed to a fight, but Vernazzaro was unarmed. He died from a stab wound to the chest that pierced his heart, and suffered additional stab wounds to the chest and back. 

The second teen charged in the killing, Adam Martin, then 17, who lived at the same group home as Christensen, agreed to plead guilty to a reduced charge of manslaughter and received a 12-15 year prison term last month. 

Christensen rejected the same offer. 

His defense attorney argued to jurors that Christensen suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and other issues that were the result of severe abuse during his childhood. Christensen had been neglected by his birth parents and placed in a Russian orphanage, where he testified that he was abused. 

Then, Christensen was adopted by an American teacher who was later fired from his job as a principal after allegations of inappropriate conduct with high school students surfaced. He also suffered bullying at school, he testified. 

That, his attorney argued, led to an impaired ability to make good decisions. 

Prosecutors noted however that Christensen had been adopted by another family and had been doing well in therapy and in school for the several years prior to the incident. 

 

For more on this story see tomorrow's Salem News and salemnews.com.

Courts reporter Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, via email at jmanganis@salemnews.com or on Twitter @SNJulieManganis.

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