BY JULIE MANGANIS
---- — DANVERS — A young Danvers man may spend the rest of his life in prison after admitting yesterday to beating and stabbing his father to death in their Auburn Street home.
An emotional and soft-spoken Stephen Anastasi, 26, pleaded guilty in Lawrence Superior Court to second-degree murder for the Nov. 11, 2011, death of his father, John Anastasi, 60.
John Anastasi was the only person, relatives said, who had stuck by his troubled son through years of drug abuse and violence.
“There is nothing I can do to bring my father back,” a barely audible Anastasi told the courtroom. “He was a great person. I miss my father. I never meant for this to happen.”
John Anastasi was the longtime owner of Farmer John’s Produce in Gloucester, where he worked up to 70 hours a week. Sometimes, his son said yesterday, he worked for his dad, after leaving Danvers High School in his senior year without graduating.
Under the law, Anastasi’s plea to second-degree murder brought an automatic life sentence in prison from Judge Mary Ames. However, he will be eligible for parole after he serves 15 years. Had he been convicted of first-degree murder, the charge he had faced originally, there would have been no possibility of parole.
Anastasi’s plea was the result of an agreement reached between the district attorney’s office and Anastasi’s defense lawyer, who had planned to raise the defense that his client lacked criminal responsibility due to his use of heroin at the time of the crime.
“All homicides are tragic, and the court sits in wonderment as to how we get to that point,” Ames said. “These kinds of cases,” in which one family member kills another, “these are just the saddest cases of all.”
“My brother is dead today because he loved his son,” said Salvatore Anastasi, the victim’s brother and the defendant’s uncle.
Even as John Anastasi shed tears of frustration over Stephen’s problems, he believed that eventually his son would be fine, said Salvatore Anastasi, who, like other family members, had begged John to have his son committed.
“Sometimes, he was just out of control,” Salvatore Anastasi recalled in his victim-impact statement, describing incidents in which Anastasi had threatened his sisters with knives, as well as an armed standoff with Danvers police, who had been called to the home in 2007.
That case had resulted in a continuation without a finding, with the understanding that Anastasi would move to Tennessee and live with his mother, who had left the family when her son was 6 to pursue a country music career. They hoped he could get a fresh start there. But the plans fell through, and Anastasi remained with his father in their Danvers home, his drug use spiraling out of control.
On the morning of Nov. 11, 2011, Anastasi told investigators, he was holding a hammer as he crept up behind his father, who was eating at the kitchen table. The first blow to the back of John Anastasi’s head sent him to the floor, prosecutor John Brennan told the judge.
Two more blows left his father motionless, with visible wounds. A friend of Stephen’s then arrived at the house with a bag of heroin. Stephen injected the drug and then left with his friend to buy more heroin.
When he returned, hours later, he realized that his father, face down on the kitchen floor, was still alive, making gurgling sounds, Brennan told the judge. So, Anastasi grabbed a knife and stabbed his father twice in the back of his neck.
At some point, he covered his father with a blanket.
The following morning, Anastasi went to the home of a neighbor, carrying his cat and warning them of aliens, then saying someone had killed his father.
Police found John Anastasi on the floor, the knife still sticking from his neck.
Ames, the judge, asked Stephen Anastasi if what Brennan had just told her was true.
“Yes,” said Anastasi, his eyes downcast.
“The unconditional love John Anastasi had for his son makes this all the more unbelievable and tragic,” said Brennan, the prosecutor.
Anastasi’s lawyer, John Morris, said his client was “beside himself over what happened.” John Anastasi, said the defense lawyer, was “a fine man” who had tried everything he could to help his son get off of drugs.
“I truly believe Stephen lost the one person who would always stand up for him,” said Paul Anastasi, a cousin, during a victim impact statement.
But none of the Anastasi family members who spoke in court yesterday believe Stephen Anastasi should ever be released from prison.
Salvatore Anastasi told the court that Stephen’s two sisters, one of them autistic, are “deathly afraid of him.”
One sister was so despondent after the death of her father that she tried to take her own life, said Peter Anastasi, another of the victim’s brothers.
“She wanted the pain to go away,” he said. “She wanted to be with Dad.”
There were no words, he said, to fully capture the “complete and utter devastation” of the Anastasi family.
Courts reporter Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @SNJulieManganis.