And, said the judge, many, if not most, of the defendants he sees in murder and manslaughter cases have suffered abusive childhoods.
Yet, none of those other defendants typically had access to the “top-flight” psychological counseling and treatment, including years with a Harvard-affiliated child psychiatrist, or supportive adoptive parents, said the judge as he rejected the notion that the abuse of Christensen mitigated his conduct.
He and co-defendant Adam Martin “double-teamed Mr. Vernazzaro,” said the judge. “It appears Mr. Vernazzaro never got in a single blow before he was clubbed over the head and then stabbed ... not once but repeatedly.”
Martin last month accepted a plea agreement and is serving a 12- to 15-year prison term for manslaughter, the same offer Christensen rejected before trial.
“Mr. Vernazzaro was left alone to die in the darkness on a presumably cold March evening,” said the judge.
And while Christensen is small and looks young for his age, that “is not a license to kill,” the judge said.
As the judge announced his sentence, both Christensen and his second adoptive father, Dean Christensen, shook their heads.
Moments earlier, both men had pleaded with the judge for mercy.
Sajan Christensen, who according to his attorney is already pursuing an appeal of his conviction, stood and read from a statement telling the family of Vernazzaro that he “would like to express my deepest apology to J.P.’s family.”
“Please try and understand the unfortunate circumstances that took place were never intentional,” said the 20-year-old defendant to Vernazzaro’s siblings, nieces and other family members. “It was truly an accident. For whatever it’s worth, I’m truly sorry.”
Dean Christensen, a banker who, along with his wife Jane Olingy, adopted the defendant when he was around 10, described how he had to comfort his son after countless nightmares, and how his son now wants to become an attorney and “truly, truly wants to help people.”