After deliberating for only five hours, a Middlesex Superior Court jury cleared a New Hampshire man in the 43-year-old killing of a teenager in Lowell, stunning prosecutors and the boy’s family, who had waited decades for justice.
Michael Ferreira, 59, of Salem, N.H., walked out of the courthouse in Woburn a free man, his lawyer saying he was looking to return to a quiet life with his wife.
“Their lives have been turned upside down for the last two years, and they just want to resume their normal life,” Ferreira’s lawyer, Eric Wilson of New Hampshire said after the verdict. Ferreira had been accused with two other men of killing John McCabe, 15.
Wilson said he was thankful for the courage of the jury, and added, “We also recognize the anguish the McCabe family continues to suffer for the loss of their son.”
But Wilson said, “The questions that surround the death of John McCabe could not be answered by prosecuting Mike Ferreira.”
The case had been built in large part on the testimony of Edward A. Brown, who told jurors that he, Ferreira, and Walter Shelley were teenagers at the time and meant to harass McCabe, by tying him up and taping his mouth, for flirting with Shelley’s girlfriend. Brown said they left McCabe in a parking lot on the night of Sept. 26, 1969, drove away, and found him dead when they returned.
Brown pleaded guilty to a reduced count of manslaughter in a deal with prosecutors and is expected to serve a sentence of probation with no jail time. Middlesex District Attorney Gerard T. Leone Jr. said in a statement Friday that, despite the jury’s verdict, he will still try Shelley on murder charges. No date has been set for the trial.
One of McCabe’s sister’s, Debbie McCabe Atamanchuk, told reporters outside the courthouse: “Our family wasn’t looking for revenge. We were looking for justice.” She said the last 43 years have been “a nightmare for our family.”
Leone said in the statement that “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 burden of proof and persuasion,” he said.
The verdict was a surprise to Walter Jamieson, a retired Tewksbury deputy police chief who was a patrolman and met McCabe’s parents at the time of the killing.
He was called to testify about an investigation into another man in a separate case who had hogtied a woman, but said there were no similarities to what had happened to McCabe.
Jamieson said he thought Brown’s testimony would have been enough to convict Ferreira. “I can’t imagine someone telling you they took part in a murder if they didn’t do it,” he said. “It just didn’t make a lot of sense to me, but you never know when you go to a jury.”
But Wilson said that jurors were left with too many questions about the case, and he had argued that there were too many other possibilities that were not investigated.
Wilson said that Brown agreed to testify only after he was continuously harassed by law enforcement officers and that his testimony was based on what he had been told.
“He just, in essence, said I’ll take a deal and tell you what you need to know, which is sad,” Wilson said. “Everywhere [jurors] looked, at every turn in that case, there was reasonable doubt.”
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