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Merrimack Valley

October 22, 2013

Man gets 15-20 in fatal stabbing

Judge says Christensen's anger makes him a danger to others

BEVERLY — Much had been made of the horrific abuse suffered by Sajan “Sage” Christensen, at the hands of his birth parents, then in an orphanage, and finally, after he was adopted by a suspected pedophile.

But a Salem Superior Court judge yesterday said Christensen’s background does not excuse his actions on the night of March 17, 2011, when he and a second teenager beat and stabbed James “J.P.” Vernazzaro to death inside Balch Park in Beverly.

Christensen, now 20, was sentenced yesterday to 15 to 20 years in state prison by Judge Howard Whitehead, who said he has concerns about the anger inside the young man that led him to kill the 26-year-old Vernazzaro.

“I have real concerns about what lies in the future for Mr. Christensen,” said the judge.who presided over the four-week trial. “I’m concerned about the danger Mr. Christensen poses. There is clearly an underlying anger within him ... it is an anger that led to this incident.”

Christensen was convicted earlier this month of manslaughter, a lesser offense than the first-degree murder charge for which he stood trial. The maximum penalty for manslaughter is 20 years in prison.

The judge’s sentence was what prosecutors Kristen Buxton and John Brennan had requested.

Buxton raised the same concerns about Christensen’s anger during her argument.

“The defendant is an angry and lethally dangerous young man,” said the prosecutor, who cited an alleged threat to a cellmate and an assault on a correctional officer by Christensen while he was awaiting trial.

The crime “was a concerted attack ... against an unarmed man, over nothing more than words,” Buxton said.

Christensen’s attorney, Raymond Buso, had urged a six- to 12-year term, lower than even the voluntary sentencing guidelines in Massachusetts — guidelines Whitehead said fail to take into account the difference between a vehicular homicide and a planned attack.

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