Slain Danvers Teacher's Family Decries Decision On Juvenile Sentences

Danvers' Phillip Chism is led into his arraignment on murder charges in Salem Superior Court. (Paul Bilodeau/The Eagle-Tribune/AP, Pool)
Danvers' Phillip Chism is led into his arraignment on murder charges in Salem Superior Court. (Paul Bilodeau/The Eagle-Tribune/AP, Pool)

The parents of a slain math teacher said in a statement Friday that they feel a sense of "betrayal and anguish" over a recent court decision that ruled it is unconstitutional to sentence juveniles to prison without the possibility of parole.

Colleen Ritzer, 24, was found slain behind Danvers High School in October. One of her former students, 14-year-old Philip Chism, is being held without bail after pleading not guilty to murder and other charges in connection with her death.

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled last month that first-degree murder convicts under age 18 should be given the chance of parole in part because their brains are not fully developed. The U.S. Supreme Court had previously issued a similar decision.

"The Ritzer family feels a deep sense of betrayal and anguish with the recent decision of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court that provides more rights to those youths convicted of horrible and heinous crimes than victims and their families," the statement issued by a family spokesman said.

"If the individual charged with her horrific murder is convicted and sentenced to life in prison, he must never, ever have an opportunity for parole. Paroling such violent offenders would be more cruel and unusual punishment to victims' families and loved ones," the statement said.

Authorities haven't released a motive for Ritzer's killing.

Students told police that Chism, who had recently moved to Massachusetts from Tennessee, stayed after school the day Ritzer was killed. One student who said she had also stayed after school to receive extra help that day said Chism appeared to become upset when Ritzer began talking about Tennessee.

Search warrant documents described surveillance video that authorities said showed Chism following Ritzer into a school bathroom, wearing gloves and a hood, then later walking out alone.

A short time later, the video shows Chism pulling a recycling barrel through the school and outside, according to the documents. A recycling barrel was found near Ritzer's body. Authorities said she had been sexually assaulted with a stick.

Chism is charged with murder as an adult.

His lawyer said she would raise the issue of mental competency "if and when" she feels it's appropriate.

This article was originally published on January 03, 2014.


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