By Doug Ireland
---- — Evelyn McCabe gazed at the photograph of her son as she listened to a television news report — a report telling how a suspect in 15-year-old John McCabe’s murder was acquitted only hours earlier.
“I really wanted justice and I didn’t see it happen,” she said last night. “I just felt we got gypped a little bit.”
For 43 years, the 80-year-old Tewksbury woman and her family have waited for justice to be served, ever since her son’s bound, lifeless body was found in a Lowell field in September 1969.
She continues to wait.
But for 59-year-old Michael Ferreira of Salem, N.H., yesterday marked a new beginning. Ferreira walked out of Middlesex Superior Court in Woburn a free man following his acquittal in the murder of John McCabe.
“Mike has been through a lot in the last few years,” said Eric Wilson, Ferreira’s attorney. “It turned life upside down for him and his family. I think he’s going to sleep well tonight.”
For nearly two years, Ferreira has been behind bars — one of three suspects in the murder. The jury deliberated for almost five hours Thursday and yesterday before reaching its verdict shortly before noon.
Ferreira has been on trial since Jan. 14, waiting to learn his fate after co-defendant and former friend, Edward Brown of Londonderry, testified against him.
Brown, charged with manslaughter, testified as part of a plea agreement with the prosecution after confessing two years ago. He described for the jury how he, Ferreira and their friend, Walter Shelley of Tewksbury — all teenagers at the time — forced McCabe into a car as he walked home from a dance in Tewksbury.
Brown, now 61, said he only thought his friends were going to frighten McCabe and rough him up because he flirted with Shelley’s girlfriend. But then, Ferreira and Shelley dragged the scared teen out of the car, Brown said.
McCabe struggled and cried, Brown said. He told of how Ferreira tied him up while he sat on McCabe’s legs.
McCabe was then abandoned in the field. His wrists, legs and neck were bound with rope and his eyes and mouth were taped shut, according to police.
Brown testified the three were shocked when they later returned to the field and discovered McCabe wasn’t breathing. A medical examiner ruled he died of asphyxiation.
Brown said Ferreira warned his friends not to tell anyone about what happened, otherwise he would kill them.
Wilson said it was the inconsistent testimony of Brown that helped convince the jury his client was innocent.
“The key to me is whether or not they could believe the testimony of Edward Brown,” he said.
Wilson said Ferreira and his family were grateful to the jury for their decision.
“But we also recognize the anguish the McCabe family is experiencing,” he said.
It’s that anguish that continues to make life painful for Evelyn McCabe, her husband William McCabe, 85, and the rest of their family.
After leaving the courthouse, the couple’s daughter, Debbie Atamanchuk, told of how they were upset with the verdict.
“The last 43 years has been a nightmare for our family,” she said. “Our family wasn’t looking for revenge, we were looking for justice.”
Evelyn McCabe said in a telephone interview last night she was surprised and disappointed Ferreira was acquitted.
“We waited a long time to get him there,” she said.
Ferreira was living at 8 Plaisted Circle in Salem when arrested in April 2011. He had been held on $500,000 cash bail since his arrest and faced life in prison without parole if convicted.
While looking at photograph of her son, the mother told of how much she missed him and how he would bring home wild animals, including an injured Canada goose and baby quail.
“He was a wonderful boy,” she said. “He was 100 percent boy.”
McCabe was also very kind and popular, she said.
“All the kids loved him,” she said. “He would help them in any way he could.”
The family now waits for Shelley to go on trial. He has been charged with first-degree murder and witness intimidation.
No trial date has been scheduled for Shelley, who is scheduled to appear in Lowell Superior Court on Feb. 11 for a status hearing.
A status hearing for Brown is set for Feb. 7 in Lowell Superior Court. He is to be sentenced after testifying against Shelley.
Middlesex District Attorney Gerry Leone said prosecutors were disappointed with the verdict, but will now focus on bringing Shelley to trial.
“We appreciate the challenges of trying a homicide case 43 years after the killing occurred, however, we make decisions on the facts and law, and feel that we have built a strong and solid case against all three defendants that withstands our high burdens of proof and persuasion,” Leone said in a statement.
“We will continue to honor the memory of John McCabe by continuing to fight for justice on behalf of him, his family, and the commonwealth,” Leone said.
Material from The Associated Press was used in this report.