Salem man acquitted in 1969 Mass. cold case killing
WOBURN, Mass. - A Salem man on trial for the 1969 murder of a 15-year-old boy in Lowell, Mass., was acquitted in a Massachusetts courtroom on Friday after a nine-day trial.
Michael Ferreira, 59, was found not guilty of first-degree murder by a jury in Middlesex County Superior Court in Woburn, Mass.
Ferreira was among three men charged in April 2011 for the murder of John McCabe. McCabe's body was found hog-tied, his eyes and mouth taped, in a empty field on the night of Sept. 26, 1969, hours after he was seen leaving a Knights of Columbus dance in Tewksbury, Mass.
The verdict was returned on Friday morning at 11:15 a.m. after about five hours of deliberation.
"Michael is extremely grateful for the courage the jury has shown, but at the same time recognizes that the McCabe family continues to suffer," defense lawyer Eric Wilson said on Friday afternoon.
"The questions surrounding the death of John McCabe could be answered by the prosecution of Michael Ferreira," Wilson added.
While the trial played out in a Massachusetts courtroom for more than a week and a half, there were a variety of New Hampshire connections to the case.
Ferreira is a long-time Salem resident. The star witness of the case, Edward Alan Brown, 61, lived in Londonderry at the time of his arrest. Brown agreed to plead guilty to manslaughter as part of a plea deal in which he received no time behind bars.
Wilson, a Nashua-based attorney, had represented Ferreira for years, and at trial he called upon New Hampshire Medical Examiner Dr. Thomas Andrew to testify as an expert witness for the defense.
Andrew, who couldn't be reached late Friday, serves as an independent expert for five to 10 out-of-state cases per year, according to Wilson. Andrew testified about the lividity - or where the blood settled - in McCabe's body following the murder.
Using medical records provided by the state, his assessment ran counter to the prosecution's theory of the murder. Yet Andrew's findings were supported by a Massachusetts medical examiner who worked on the case, Wilson said. Wilson said he believes Brown's testimony came off as unreliable, weighing heavily with the jury's verdict.
Wilson had a chance to cross-examine Brown once before.
After Ferreira was arrested, the case was first heard in juvenile court because all three men were teenagers at the time of the murder. Brown testified during that juvenile court hearing in 2011, which determined Ferreira could be tried as an adult in superior court. Wilson also had access to grand jury testimony Brown gave to a grand jury in 2011.
Wilson was also allowed by a judge to tell the jury about other viable suspects who were once pursued by investigators, but not charged.
Being allowed to tell jurors about so-called third-party suspects required the defense to meet a number of thresholds to demonstrate that their information was reliable.
"You need to have a factual basis for it, and a judge needs to review that evidence," Wilson said.
Prosecutors said on Friday they would still try the remaining defendant, Walter Shelley, 59, of Tewksbury, Mass.
Shelley was allegedly jealous about McCabe talking to his girlfriend on the night of the killing, and decided he wanted to teach him a lesson, according to police. No trial date has been set in his case. Ferreira, who is free on bail, is also facing a perjury charge related to testimony he gave to a grand jury in 2008, but Wilson expects the state will not be able to pursue that case in the wake of Friday's not guilty verdict.
Now Ferreira will be challenged with returning back to a normal life.
"Michael and his family have been under a tremendous amount of stress. It's not a fun thing to go through a first-degree murder trial," Wilson said.