After waiting 44 years, the 81-year-old mother of a Tewksbury teenager who was strangled after attending a town dance in 1969 has finally found justice.
“It’s kind of like a miracle,” Evelyn McCabe said after a Tewksbury man was convicted Friday for his role in the grisly murder of 15-year-old John McCabe.
For Evelyn McCabe, the nightmare began when her son’s lifeless body was found in a vacant field in Lowell in September 1969.
On Friday, a Middlesex jury convicted Walter Shelley, 61, of murder and witness intimidation, District Attorney Marian T. Ryan’s office said. A sentencing hearing is scheduled Oct. 29, and Shelley faces a maximum sentence of life in prison without possibility of parole.
A lawyer for Shelley did not respond to inquiries after the verdict was rendered.
Although thrilled with the verdict, McCabe, of Tewksbury, said the case’s resolution does not bring closure to her family.
“Please don’t say closure,” she said. “I buried a child. You don’t get closure from that. You have to deal with that until you die. Every day I cried; every day I said prayers for him.”
In a statement, Ryan also hailed the verdict.
“This has been a long, difficult, and emotional process for everyone involved,” she said. “In addition to suffering an excruciating loss, the McCabe family has waited more than four decades for this jury’s verdict.”
Ryan added, “My wish is that it provides some peace for them, as well as hope for the families of other victims in unsolved homicide cases that they, too, may see justice in the legal arena one day.”
According to prosecutors, Shelley and two other teenagers abducted McCabe as he walked home from the dance on the night of Sept. 26, 1969. The youths thought he had been flirting with a girlfriend of one of the teens recently and wanted to teach him a lesson.
McCabe’s body was found the next morning in Lowell, and he was bound with rope with his eyes and mouth taped shut.
The cause of death was determined to be asphyxia by strangulation, Ryan’s office said.
A codefendant, Michael Ferreira, 60, of Salem, N.H., was acquitted of murder in a separate trial in January, but he still faces a perjury charge in a related case, according to Ryan’s office.
The third defendant, Edward A. Brown, 61, of Londonderry, N.H., struck a plea deal with prosecutors to avoid prison in exchange for his testimony about the killing.
During Ferreira’s trial, Brown testified that he, Shelley, and Ferreira left McCabe gagged and hog-tied in the vacant lot. When they returned, Brown said, Ferreira and Shelley got out of the car, walked over to McCabe’s body, and crouched over him.
“They said he wasn’t breathing; they were startled, surprised, scared,” Brown said of the reaction of his two friends. He also testified that Ferreira swore Brown and Shelley to secrecy and threatened to kill them if they told anyone.
Evelyn McCabe said Friday that shortly after Ferreira’s acquittal, her husband, Bill, suffered two massive heart attacks and died.
“He was looking for justice, and when he passed away, I said I’m just going to continue,” she said. She also described her son as a “very loving kid.”
“He had lots of friends, and he loved animals,” she said. “I always had kids downstairs in my house shooting pool. He didn’t give anyone any trouble, no one. And it was all over a girl.”
McCabe added that she still cannot fathom why anyone would commit such a brutal murder.
“How could someone do that to John?” she said. “You don’t understand murder. They strangled him, and then they left him in a rotten raunchy field. He cried for his life, and they never responded.”
globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe. Nicholas Jacques can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.