SALEM, Mass. A teenager accused of raping and killing his math teacher on high school grounds lost his bid Tuesday to be tried as a minor.
Philip Chism, who is now 15, is charged with robbery, rape and murder in the attack on Colleen Ritzer, 24, at Danvers High School in October 2013. At the time, he was a 14-year-old freshman who had recently moved from Tennessee.
Chism’s attorney, Denise Regan, argued in court Tuesday that the state’s youthful offender law, which requires minors 14 years of age and over charged with murder be automatically tried as adults, violates her client’s constitutional rights of “equal protection, due process, fundamental fairness and freedom from cruel or unusual punishment.”
“Massachusetts is an outlier in its mandatory harsh treatment of juveniles,” she said. “There is no discretion involved.”
Regan also argued that there is no reason for Chism to be tried as an adult, since juvenile courts can hand down life sentences. “The reason why a 14-year-old is in adult court is to stigmatize him,” she said. “There is no other rational basis to do it.”
Essex County Assistant District Attorney Kate MacDougall countered that if tried and convicted in the juvenile system, Chism could be eligible for parole before he turns 30. “That’s the reality of what we are dealing with here,” she said.
MacDougall said Chism is accused of “one of the most heinous and brutal murders that a person could possibly commit.”
In court papers, prosecutors wrote that Chism had followed Ritzer into the girl’s bathroom after school, raped her and “repeatedly asphyxiated her before or while assaulting her with a box cutter.”
He then put her mutilated body in a recycling bin and dumped it in the woods, prosecutors said. He took Ritzer’s cellphone, which he destroyed, and her wallet, which he used a credit card from to buy fast food and attend a movie at the mall later that day, they said.
Salem Superior Court Judge Howard Whitehead denied Chism’s request to have the youthful offender charges dismissed.
Chism also faces attempted murder and other charges stemming from an assault on a Department of Youth Services worker while in custody earlier this year.