Middlesex jury acquits man in 1969 cold case murder trial; DA vows to try second defendant

Michael Ferreira (right) sits at the defense table during his murder trial in connection with the 1969 murder victim 15-year-old John McCabe in Woburn court on Friday, Jan. 18, 2013 in Woburn, Mass. Ferreira, 58, and two others are accused of the 1969 kidnapping and murder of 15-year-old John McCabe of Tewksbury. McCabe died of asphyxiation after being bound, gagged and left in a Lowell field. (AP Photo/The Boston Globe, Josh Reynolds, Pool)
Michael Ferreira listened to proceedings during the trial.
Josh Reynolds/Globe Staff

WOBURN — A 59-year-old Salem, N.H., man was acquitted today in Middlesex Superior Court of a murder 43 years ago in Lowell in which three teenagers allegedly abducted and hog-tied another teenager and left him in a vacant lot, where he suffocated.

Michael Ferreira was accused of being one of the trio who abducted and killed 15-year-old John McCabe in 1969. McCabe was allegedly targeted because he had flirted with the girlfriend of one of the other attackers.

“Although we are disappointed with the verdict, we respect the right of the jury to render this decision today and thank them for their service to the Commonwealth,” Middlesex District Attorney Gerry Leone.

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Ferreira, through his attorney Eric Wilson, has consistently denied playing a role in McCabe’s death.

Leone said prosecutors recognized there were challenges to trying a 43-year-old case, but “we make decisions on the facts and law, and feel that we have built a strong and solid case ... that withstands our high burdens of proof and persuasion.”

Leone said prosecutors would press forward with the trial of a second man who allegedly participated in the crime, Walter Shelley, 61, of Tewksbury, has pleaded not guilty to a first-degree murder charge. It was McCabe’s supposed flirting with Shelley’s girlfriend that sparked the attack.

“We will continue to honor the memory of John McCabe by continuing to fight for justice on behalf of him, his family, and the Commonwealth,” Leone said in a statement.

The case had frustrated investigators for years. But they received a break when Edward A. Brown, who was allegedly the third teenager in the car, agreed to cooperate.

Brown testified last week that he was with Ferreira and Shelley on Sept. 26, 1969, when all three of them grabbed McCabe and drove to an isolated area in Lowell where they hogtied and gagged him.

“They wanted me to go with them to help them find a kid, who had been flirting with Marla, to teach him a lesson,” Brown testified.

Brown, who was 17 at the time, said he, Ferreira, then 16, and Shelley, then 18, drove around for a while and returned to the vacant lot later. They found McCabe was not breathing, jumped back into the car, and drove off.