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A Massachusetts teenager's confession to police that he killed his math teacher cannot be used in his murder trial, a judge ruled Tuesday even as he allowed a bloody box cutter and other key pieces of evidence to be admitted.
The ruling came in the case of 16-year-old Philip Chism, who has pleaded not guilty to raping and killing 24-year-old Danvers High School teacher Colleen Ritzer on school grounds in October 2013.
Chism's lawyers had argued that police coerced their client, then 14, into making detailed statements about the killing, despite invoking his right to remain silent. Prosecutors maintained Chism and his mother had never absolutely demanded a lawyer.
Essex County District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett, through a spokeswoman, said his office was still reviewing the decision. Calls to Chism's public defenders seeking comment were not immediately returned.
Ritzer's family said in a statement it respected the court ruling and was confident that law enforcement "acted responsibly and lawfully" in investigating their daughter's killing.
The 48-page decision came after days of arguments and testimony on the defense's motion to suppress key pieces of evidence in the case.
Salem Superior Court Judge David Lowy concluded that Chism had willingly talked to police in the town of Topsfield on the night of the killing, calmly answering questions and even correcting officers at various points.
But Chism's demeanor changed when he was taken to the Danvers police station and further interrogated in his mother's presence, the judge noted. At that point, Lowy said, Chism grew uncomfortable and somewhat hostile.
He twice indicated his disinterest in speaking with Danvers police and "did not appear to be fully engaged" or to appreciate the seriousness of what officers asked him as they explained his Miranda rights, the judge wrote.
"It is clear that the defendant wanted to talk to the police without his mother present in the room," Lowy said in his ruling. "It is also clear that he had no intention of talking while his mother was in the room."
As a result, the judge said, he would allow the statements Chism made to Topsfield police to be introduced as evidence but not his taped confession at the Danvers police station.
He also allowed items gathered at Danvers High School, as well as those seized from Chism's pockets and backpack. They included Ritzer's ID and credit cards, a bloody box cutter and women's underwear.
But Lowy ruled prosecutors cannot use evidence from Chism's and Ritzer's cellphones, which were found near a movie complex.
Authorities say surveillance video from Oct. 22, 2013, shows Chism following Ritzer into a school bathroom, wearing gloves and a hood, then later walking out of the bathroom alone. A short time later, the video shows Chism pulling a recycling barrel through the school and outside.
Ritzer's body was later found in nearby woods, naked from the waist down and with her throat slit and a note that read, "I hate you all." Authorities said she was sexually assaulted with a stick. A bloody recycling bin was found nearby.
Chism, who had recently moved to Massachusetts from Clarksville, Tennessee, was found that night by Topsfield police walking along a nearby highway. Prosecutors allege that after the killing, Chism used Ritzer's credit card to buy fast food and attend a movie at the mall.
Chism's trial is scheduled for Oct. 7. Both sides are expected back in court for a pre-trial hearing on April 9.
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