Massachusetts teenager faces trial for murdering high school teacher

Reuters News
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Posted: Nov 16, 2015 8:30 AM

By Ted Siefer

SALEM, Mass. (Reuters) - Massachusetts prosecutors on Monday are set to open their case against a 16-year-old charged with raping and murdering a popular teacher at his suburban high school two years ago.

Philip Chism, 16, is being tried as an adult in the murder of Colleen Ritzer, who had been a popular 24-year-old teacher at his high school in Danvers, Massachusetts, a town of 26,000 people about 20 miles (32 km) north of Boston.

Defense attorneys are expected to mount an insanity defense to account for his actions on Oct. 22, 2013, when he was a 14-year-old freshman.

That day, prosecutors contend, Chism followed Ritzer into the bathroom after school, raped her, cut her throat with a box cutter, and transported her body off campus in a recycling receptacle. Ritzer's body was found in woods near Danvers High School with a note reading: "I hate you all."

Prosecutors are expected to argue that Chism was upset by a conversation he had with Ritzer and that he was aware of his actions. Chism is also accused of taking Ritzer’s credit card, which prosecutors say he later used to buy fast food and a ticket to a movie at a nearby mall.

Chism is being charged as an adult under Massachusetts law for first-degree murder. He has also been charged as a juvenile for two counts of aggravated rape and armed robbery.

If found guilty of first-degree murder, he would face a mandatory sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Chism, who was known as quiet and a talented soccer player, was described at the time as being under emotional strain after relocating to Danvers from Tennessee with his mother following his parents’ divorce.

The start of the trial at Essex County Superior Court was delayed when lawyers for Chism reported that he had experienced a mental disturbance and questioned whether he was fit to stand trial. Following a competency evaluation, Judge David Lowy ruled earlier this month that Chism had "sufficient present ability" for the trial to continue.

Jury selection has also been a lengthy process, as prosecutors and defense attorneys queried hundreds of potential jurors on their willingness to accept an insanity defense.

(Editing by Scott Malone; Editing by Bernadette Baum)