McCabe Death an Accident? Forensics Expert says, 'Not Likely'
Brown claims the defendants only wanted "to teach him a lesson."
While confessing to his role in causing the 1969 death of Johnny McCabe, Edward Brown said, on more than one occasion that the death, itself, was an accident.
According to court documents, during police interrogation in March, Brown said he, Michael Ferreira and Walter Shelley just "wanted to teach (McCabe) a lesson," and that the death was an unforeseen byproduct of a prank gone horribly wrong.
That could be true, at least in part. But there is evidence in the case that raises the possibility that one, if not all three suspects, had an idea that McCabe would die that night in Septemeber 1969.
According to Brown, the trio had been out driving around in Shelley's car and drinking alcohol when they decided to track down McCabe. Shelley was aggravated, said Brown, that McCabe had shared a mutual flirtation with Shelley's girlfriend, Marla Shiner.
The trio allegedly kidnapped McCabe while he was hitchhiking with a friend along Route 38. Brown said he and Ferreira beat McCabe in the back seat of Shelley's car while Shelley drove to a vacant lot in Lowell. There, according to Brown's statement, they dragged the 15-year-old McCabe out of the car and Shelley, 18, and Brown, 17, wrestled him to the ground.
Ferreira, then 15, volunteered to go back to the car to get the tape and the rope, said Brown. With McCabe held down, Ferreira allegedly taped his eyes shut and taped his mouth closed to keep him from screaming. He then tied his ankles together, tied his hands behind his back, then tied a rope to his ankles and looped it around his neck, said Brown. The technique is sometimes referred to as a "hogtie strangle." According to court documents, Ferreira tied the ropes efficiently and in such a way so that the more McCabe struggled to get free, the more tired his legs would get and the more the rope would tighten around his neck. This proved to be the cause of death.
The question remains: Did any of the three alleged killers anticipate, or intend, for McCabe to wind up dead that night?
After tying up McCabe, Brown told Police the trio left the scene and then came back less than two hours letter, seeming to indicate that at least some of the group felt like the lesson had been taught and they would release McCabe.
But McCabe was dead and the trio panicked, said Brown. Shelley and Brown just wanted to run. But, according to Brown, Ferreira's reaction was different. Ferreira grew angry at his friends and he told them that if no one talked about what happened they could never get caught. But he went beyond that, according to Brown, threatening to kill the two older boys if they ever opened their mouths.
Throughout the crime, according to Brown's statement, Ferreira had been the most aggressive and violent member of the trio, despite the fact that supposedly it was Shelley who had felt disrespected by McCabe.
Brown said it was Ferreira who had grabbed McCabe off the street and forced him into the car. It was Ferreira and Brown who beat McCabe in the backseat and it was Ferreira who skillfully bound and gagged McCabe.
According to a forensics expert, the method of bondage allegedly used by Ferreira on McCabe and the fact that the equipment used was on hand in the car, might also shed clues into the boys' intent.
Mark E. Safarik is a retired FBI agent and is now the executive director of Forensic Behavioral Services Inc. in Fredericksburg, Va. He is often called upon to testify as a forsensics expert in murder trials. Briefed by a reporter on the details of the McCabe case revealed in court documents, Safarik said it was not very likely the death was accidental.
"I would say it is more likely that either they intended (McCabe) to die or they didn't care whether he died or not," said Safarik, adding that, in his experience, the level of planning involved speaks to the intent of the suspects. "In my experience, in cases like this, there is an expectation of death. Once you tie the neck, you either don't care if he lives or dies or you intended for him to die.
"In my experience, the type of (bondage) used was excessive (just) to scare someone."
Safarik stressed that he was not involved directly with the McCabe case and did not have access to all of the evidence or crime scene photos. He said to make a concrete determination he would need to have access to more of the details.
Shelley,60, has been charged with murder, Brown, 59, is charged with manslaughter and Ferreira, 57, is charged with murder as a juvenile. However, prosecutors are trying to gain a ruling in juvenile court that would allow them to try Ferreira on the murder charge as an adult. He is also charged with perjury as an adult for allegedly lying to a grand jury in 2008. Brown, in exchange for his cooperation with authorities, is charged with manslaughter.
All three are due back in Lowell District Court on May 26 for pre-trial conferencing. However, a Middlesex County Grand Jury is expected to hand down indictments before then.