U.S. News

Jury to decide fate of Massachusetts teenager charged with murder

SALEM, Mass. (Reuters) - A jury is set to weigh the fate of Massachusetts teenager accused of raping and murdering his high school math teacher, after his lawyer and a prosecutor painted starkly contrasting portraits of him in closing statements at his trial on Monday.

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

Attorneys for Philip Chism, 16, have not disputed that he murdered the teacher, Colleen Ritzer at suburban Danvers High School in October 2013, but have argued that he was not criminally responsible because he suffered from severe mental illness.

The prosecution portrayed Chism’s actions as premeditated and intentionally cruel. He is being tried as an adult.

Prosecutors contend that Chism raped Ritzer, 24, killed her by cutting her throat with a box cutter and bundled her body off campus in a recycling container. He is also accused of taking Ritzer’s credit card, which prosecutors say he used to buy fast food and a ticket to a movie at a mall.

Defense attorney Denise Regan recalled the testimony of a psychiatrist who said that Chism was obeying voices in his head when he killed Ritzer.

“The evidence is clear that Philip Chism has suffered from an undiagnosed psychotic disorder — most likely early onset schizophrenia — from the time he was young,” Regan said.

But Essex County prosecutor Kate McDougall pointed to a series of school surveillance videos that show Chism acting methodically and carefully on the day of the murder, including bringing three separate tote bags to school, one of which, prosecutors said, contained a box cutter, gloves and a mask.

“There is overwhelming evidence beyond a reasonable doubt that Philip Chism was not suffering from a mental disease or defect on Oct. 22, 2013,” McDougall said. “He had a goal, a terrible, terrible purpose and he played it out in the woods.”

The month-long 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.”

The jury heard that Ritzer was a well-liked teacher at the high school in Danvers, Massachusetts, a town of 26,000 people about 20 miles (32 km) north of Boston.

Chism would face a mandatory sentence of life in prison without possibility of parole if convicted of the most serious charge, first-degree murder.

Editing Scott Malone and Grant McCool