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June 28, 2022

Jury finds Massachusetts teen guilty in teacher’s 2013 murder

Image: Philip Chism, 14, stands during his arraignment for the death of Danvers High School teacher Colleen Ritzer as his attorney Denise Regan (R) speaks on his behalf in Boston, Massachusetts, in this file photo taken October 23, 2013. REUTERS/Patrick Whittemore/Pool/Files

By Ted Siefer

LOWELL, Mass. (Reuters) – A Massachusetts jury on Tuesday found a teenager guilty of raping and murdering a math teacher at his suburban high school in 2013, rejecting an insanity defence.

In finding 16-year-old Philip Chism guilty after about nine hours of deliberations, the jury rejected the defence’s argument that he was suffering from a psychotic episode at the time of the 2013 attack and therefore not criminally responsible for his actions.

Chism was 14 when he raped and cut the throat of 24-year-old math teacher Colleen Ritzer, who had stayed late to provide Chism additional help at his high school in Danvers, Massachusetts, north of Boston.

He was tried as an adult and could be sentenced to life in prison.

As the verdicts were read, Chism displayed the same appearance he maintained in court throughout the trial, staring straight ahead without emotion. Members of Ritzer’s family wept.

Prosecutors presented voluminous evidence during the month-long trial, including school surveillance videos, to support allegations that Chism followed Ritzer into a bathroom after school, raped and strangled her, and carted her body in a recycling bin to a wooded area off campus.

In her closing argument on Monday, Essex County prosecutor Kate McDougall stressed that Chism’s actions were methodical throughout the day of the attack and included bringing bags to school containing a box cutter, gloves and a change of clothes, and later shopping at a store for a hunting knife.

“Are his actions … consistent with psychosis or are they consistent with Philip Chism doing what he wants?” McDougall asked the jury.

Chism’s attorneys had argued that he suffered from a severe mental illness that had gone undiagnosed for years. Citing the testimony of a psychiatrist who examined Chism, defence attorney Denise Regan said the strain of moving from a supportive community in Tennessee to starting as a freshman at a new high school had triggered a psychotic break.

“Philip Chism was under enormous stress,” Regan said in her closing statement. “What other than overpowering mental illness could cause him to commit these acts?”

The trial at Essex County Superior Court in Salem, Massachusetts, was occasionally delayed by Chism, who at one point refused to return to the courtroom after a break telling his attorney that he was “about to explode.”

(Writing by Scott Malone; Editing by Dan Grebler)

Copyright 2015 Thomson Reuters. Click for Restrictions.

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