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Saturday, January 26, 2013

Salem man found not guilty in 1969 murder case

WOBURN, Mass. – Forty-three years after John McCabe was found dead in Lowell, his family is still searching for justice.

The first of three suspects charged in McCabe’s 1969 murder was found not guilty Friday in Middlesex County Superior Court in Woburn. ...

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WOBURN, Mass. – Forty-three years after John McCabe was found dead in Lowell, his family is still searching for justice.

The first of three suspects charged in McCabe’s 1969 murder was found not guilty Friday in Middlesex County Superior Court in Woburn.

Michael Ferreira, now 57, of Salem, N.H., had faced first-degree murder charges. McCabe, 15 at the time, was allegedly bound, gagged and left to die in September 1969.

His sister, Debbie McCabe Atamanchuk, who now lives in Merrimack, N.H., couldn’t be reached for comment Friday.

“The case lasted almost two weeks, and it was a very complicated case regarding evidence collected over 40 years,” Ferreira’s attorney, Eric Wilson, of Nashua, said Friday afternoon. “But ultimately, the questions that surround the death of John McCabe could not be answered by the prosecution of Michael Ferreira.

“On behalf of Michael and his family, we express our sincere gratitude for the jury’s verdict.”

Prosecutor Thomas O’Reilly, who tried the case for the state of Massachusetts, did not return calls for comment Friday.

According to police records, McCabe, who was in his last year at Tewksbury Junior High School, was attempting to hitchhike home from a dance at the Knights of Columbus Hall in Tewksbury on the night of Sept. 26, 1969, when several boys, enraged over a dispute over a girl, picked him up.

The group allegedly drove McCabe to a nearby field, on Maple Street in Lowell, and left him bound, according to police reports. Authorities found him the next morning, pronouncing the cause of death asphyxiation by strangulation.

“I’ll never forget that day,” Atamanchuk, who was 17 at the time of her brother’s death, said in an interview several years ago. “I was at work. … My boss drove me home, and my father and the priest met me at the door. …

“It was like you’re watching a movie and you’re trying to figure out ‘How did I get out of this?’ ”

Early in their investigation, police identified Ferreira, along with Walter Shelley, now 60, of Tewksbury, and Edward Brown, 59, of Londonderry, N.H., as suspects.

But it wasn’t until 2011 that they developed sufficient evidence to charge the men.

Grand jury testimony, taken then from Ferreira, led officers to Brown, who then confessed to police, breaking a long-standing pact among the men never to speak on the matter, according to police records.

During the trial, Brown, who had struck an agreement with the prosecution, testified about Ferreira’s alleged role in McCabe’s death. But with their verdict, the jury rejected Brown’s testimony, Wilson said.

“Obviously, they were not convinced that his testimony was credible,” he said.

With Ferreira acquitted, the cases against the other two suspects will move forward in the coming weeks.

Brown, who is facing a manslaughter charge, is scheduled to return to court Feb. 7 for a status hearing. Shelley, who is facing first-degree murder charges, as well as intimidation of a witness, will appear Feb. 11.

Jake Berry can be reached at 594-6402 or jberry@nashuatelegraph.com. Also, follow Berry on Twitter (Telegraph_JakeB).