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62-year-old man gets life term for 1969 killing

A Tewksbury man was sentenced to life in prison for a murder he committed in his teens, more than 40 years ago, Middlesex prosecutors said.

Walter Shelley, 62, was sentenced to life with the possibility of parole in Middlesex Superior Court on Thursday, said Stephanie Guyotte, a spokeswoman for the Middlesex district attorney. He had been convicted in September.

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John McCabe, 15, of Tewksbury, was walking home from a dance at the Knights of Columbus hall in Tewksbury on Sept. 27, 1969, when three teens spotted him, prosecutors said.

One of the boys thought that McCabe had been flirting with his girlfriend and wanted to confront him.

Shelley, then 17, and two of his friends abducted McCabe and strangled him, the district attorney’s office said.

Police discovered McCabe’s body in a field off Maple Street in Lowell. He was tied up, with his eyes and mouth taped shut.

For four decades, investigators pursued the case. The teenagers had promised each other to never tell, authorities said.

But in 2011, Edward A. Brown came forward. He entered a plea agreement with the Commonwealth, and prosecutors charged Shelley and Michael Ferreira in the killing, prosecutors said.

Ferreira was acquitted in January 2013.

Shelley, who lived for yearsjust miles from the McCabe family’s home in Tewksbury, was sentenced Thursday.

He was given a chance at parole because he was under 18 when he committed the crime, said Guyotte.

Under a recent Supreme Judicial Court decision, juveniles who commit murder in Massachusetts cannot be sentenced to life without parole.

Evelyn McCabe, mother of the slain teenager, said she was happy the trial is over.

“It’s finally done,” she said in a telephone interview Friday.

She said she wanted to thank everyone who helped with the case. John’s father, William McCabe, dedicated his life to figuring out what happened that night.

When he died in January 2013, Evelyn McCabe said she promised him she would continue their quest for justice.

“I promised him I would continue this battle,” she said. “I’m happy it’s finally over.”

Jacqueline Tempera can be reached at jacqueline.tempera@globe.com. Follow her on twitter @jacktemp.

Correction: An earlier version of this story’s headline misspelled Walter Shelley’s sentence. He was sentenced to life in prison.

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