November 4, 2015 / 3:47 PM / 3 years ago

Teen can face trial on murder charge: Massachusetts judge

Philip Chism, 14, stands during his arraignment for the death of Danvers High School teacher Colleen Ritzer in Salem District Court in Boston, Massachusetts October 23, 2013 as his attorney Denise Regan (R) speaks on his behalf. Chism was held without bail on a murder charge. REUTERS/Patrick Whittemore/Pool

BOSTON (Reuters) - A Massachusetts judge on Wednesday ruled that a teenager accused of murdering a teacher at his high school is competent to stand trial, despite arguments from his attorneys that the 16-year-old defendant had shown signs of mental disturbance.

Jury selection in the trial of Philip Chism was suspended early last month after defense attorneys raised the competency question. But after a professional evaluation of the teenager Essex County Superior Court Judge David Lowy ruled that Chism had “sufficient present ability” to stand trial.

Chism faces charges of raping and murdering Colleen Ritzer, who had been a popular 24-year-old math teacher at his high school in 2013 in Danvers, Massachusetts, a town of 26,000 people about 20 miles north of Boston.

He has pleaded not guilty and is being tried as an adult. If found guilty of first-degree murder, he would face a mandatory sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Prosecutors contend that Chism, 14 at the time of the alleged attack, had been upset by a conversation he had with Ritzer when he followed her into a bathroom after school. He then slit her throat with a box cutter and dumped her body in nearby woods with a note reading “I hate you all,” they said.

On Wednesday, Chism sat quietly in court in Salem, Massachusetts, looking down.

Lowy said he would resume jury selection and that he expected prosecutors and defense attorneys to be ready for opening statements by Nov. 13 or 16.

Chism has been described as having been under great strain at the time of the alleged attack, after moving to Massachusetts from Tennessee following his parents’ divorce.

He had provided a taped confession that Lowy earlier ruled inadmissible at trial because the teenager had not been sufficiently aware of his rights.

Reporting by Scott Malone; Editing by Susan Heavey

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