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Chism denied juvenile trial in teacher murder case

An Essex Superior Court judge Tuesday denied a bid by Philip D. Chism, the teenager accused in the murder last year of Danvers High School teacher Colleen Ritzer, to move his case to juvenile court, rejecting his attorney’s contention that to try him as an adult would be unconstitutional.

“I think there is no case law either nationally or locally which supports the contention that our current statute governing juveniles charged with murder is unconstitutional,” said Judge Howard Whitehead, after a hearing that lasted about 35 minutes.

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“I think the argument is going to have to be presented at least to the SJC, maybe to the Supreme Court of the United States, and, frankly, might be more appropriate to the state Legislature,” he said.

Defense attorney Denise Regan and Chism were in court today.

NECN screen capture

Defense attorney Denise Regan and Chism were in court today.

Chism was 14 years old when he allegedly attacked Ritzer in a girls’ bathroom in October 2013 at the high school, raping and murdering her, and then dragging her body to a nearby wooded area. Hours later, Chism was found walking on Route 1 in Topsfield and was taken into custody.

Chism is being tried as an adult under state law and has pleaded not guilty to murder, aggravated rape, and other charges. He is being held without bail.

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Defense attorney Denise Regan challenged the state’s juvenile offender law, which requires 14- to 17-year-olds who face murder charges to be tried as adults.

“The Massachusetts system is wrong and it’s unconstitutional,” Regan said. “Children are different.”

She argued that the juvenile offender law violates Chism’s rights of the constitutional protections of equal protection, due process, fundamental fairness, and freedom from cruel and unusual punishment.

In court documents, Regan argued that Massachusetts’s juvenile offender law places it in the company of “such stalwart defenders of human rights as Sudan and Somalia with regards to how we treat our children.”

But Essex County Assistant District Attorney Kate MacDougall said Tuesday that the law was a “good law” that the state Legislature was entitled to enact, and in court documents called the comparison to Sudan and Somalia “ill informed, badly off base, and shameful.”

She said in court Tuesday that Chism was accused of “objectively speaking, one of the most heinous and brutal murders that a person could possibly commit.” And she noted that under the state law affecting teenage murderers, Chism could be eligible for parole in as few as 15 years — before he is 30 years old.

“This defendant’s rights are amply protected,” MacDougall said.

Court documents filed by prosecutors Tuesday provide more detail on the brutality of his alleged attack on Ritzer.

According to the documents, on Oct. 22, 2013, Chism allegedly stayed after school with 24-year-old Ritzer, who was in her second year as a math teacher. He was 6 foot 2 and 150 pounds; she was between 5 foot 3 and 5 foot 4 and weighed 135 pounds. He allegedly followed her into a bathroom, overpowered her, and asphyxiated her repeatedly while slashing her with a box cutter.

In the document, prosecutors graphically described the extent of wounds on her body.

Chism then allegedly raped Ritzer, put her body into a recycling bin, and then dumped her in the woods behind the school, prosecutors said.

On Tuesday, shackled hand and foot and dressed in khakis and a button down shirt and tie, Chism walked into court with his head down and did not look at anyone. He was composed and still throughout the proceedings.

Chism’s mother attended the hearing, and sat in the back row wearing sunglasses and a scarf. Members of the Ritzer family sat on the other side of the courtroom. A woman wept on and off during the hearing, holding her head in her hands.

Both families left without commenting. Chism’s lawyer also declined to comment.

Chism, who is now 15 years old, is facing a separate set of charges in Suffolk Juvenile Court for allegedly attacking and trying to strangle a female counselor while he was being held at the Department of Youth Services facility in Dorchester.

He has pleaded not delinquent in those cases.

Evan Allen can be reached at evan.allen@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @evanmallen.
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