Chism’s sentencing doesn’t bring solace for Ritzer’s parents
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SALEM — Tom and Peggie Ritzer committed themselves Friday to changing state law that bars life without parole sentences for juveniles convicted of first-degree murder, a sentence they insisted that Philip D. Chism deserved for raping and murdering their daughter, Colleen.
"Today's sentence is unacceptable,'' Peggie Ritzer told reporters gathered at the Salem office of Essex District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett, shortly after Chism was sentenced to 25 years to life for murder, with a concurrent 40-year-and-one-day sentence for rape and armed robbery.
Peggie Ritzer said she and everyone in her family has been given a life without parole sentence, and that the teenager convicted of ending her 24-year-old daughter's life should receive the same punishment.
Since Chism will potentially face the state Parole Board sometime in the future, Peggie Ritzer made a vow on behalf of her family and her slain daughter.
"We want to be clear,'' she said. "At every parole hearing, our voice, Colleen's voice, will be heard.''
Tom Ritzer said the family would now turn its attention to overturning a Supreme Judicial Court ruling from December 2013 that eliminated life without parole sentences for juveniles convicted of first-degree murder.
The effort will be conducted with the same "vigor for life'' that Colleen showed during her life, he said. The goal, he said, was to "right this moral wrong."
"The notion of second chance should not be applicable in this case," Tom Ritzer said.
Colleen Ritzer was raped and murdered inside a second-floor girls' bathroom in Danvers High School on Oct. 22, 2013 by Chism, who put her body in a recycling bin and dropped it in the woods next to the school, where he violated her with a tree branch.
Ritzer was a popular teacher at the school. Chism was a 14-year-old student.
Essex Superior Court Judge David Lowy sentenced Chism to 25 years to life for the murder and two sentences of 40 years and one day to run concurrently, meaning the first chance Chism has for parole will come when he is 54 years old. He receives credit for the 857 days he spent in custody awaiting trial.
"We are devastated and feel betrayed with Judge Lowy's inability to give three consecutive life sentences,'' the Ritzer family said.
Earlier, the Ritzers addressed Lowy as the judge considered what sentence to impose on Chism, who is now 17. Chism's lawyers argued he was legally insane when he attacked and killed Ritzer.
Tom Ritzer recalled going to the high school to look for his daughter, and arriving after Chism had attacked her but before her body was found.
"It was only during the trial that I fully understood where I had been, that I had walked the same stairways, used the same doors'' as Chism, Ritzer said.
"It makes me sick to know how close I was to Colleen that day and I didn't help,'' Ritzer said in a deep voice, occasionally broken by emotion. "It makes me sick to know that I drove by her in the woods.''
Later, he said, "I didn't protect Colleen. A dad's job is to fix things. I would do anything I could if I could fix this for Colleen.''
Ritzer said said he believed Chism deserved the death penalty.
"Colleen's killer knew exactly what he was doing,'' Ritzer said. "I hate Colleen's killer and will never forgive him. He is evil, pure evil, and he must be punished.''
Peggie Ritzer recalled her daughter leaving home the day she was killed. The mother said she was pained because she could not recall exactly what she said to her firstborn on her final day.
"That was the day evil crossed her path,'' Ritzer said. "I will never understand how such evil could exist in this world, nor, more importantly, how such evil could cross Colleen's path.''
As the oldest child in the family, Colleen was often in charge of her younger siblings because her mother was working.
"She loved being a big sister,'' Peggie Ritzer said, adding that her son, Daniel, would often sleep on the floor of his big sister's bedroom.
She said the photograph of Colleen Ritzer that the family released after her death was cropped to show just Colleen. But the larger frame is of all three of her children, and is the last one taken of the siblings together, Ritzer said.
Now the annual picture has only two children. "There are supposed to be three children in the picture,'' she said. "There was always supposed to be three, and there will never be three again.''
Ritzer said Chism was "pure evil and he can never be rehabilitated.'' she said.
Colleen Ritzer's brother, Dan, and sister, Laura, spoke before their parents. Laura Ritzer said she helped her older sister set up her classroom at the high school, and regretted that she was unable to stop what later happened to her.
"I wish I could go back in time and protect my sister,'' she said. "I will never forget what happened that night.''
She added, "We will live our lives for her now and that will never change. All I want is for my family to be at peace.''
Other friends and relatives described Ritzer as a friend you could always count on, a teacher you could always rely on, and someone whose absence is felt every day.
"It truly makes me proud to have known such a wonderful person," said Ritzer's cousin, Gina McDaniel. "I wish I could turn back time.''
Sarah Gianquinta, one of Colleen Ritzer's fellow math teachers, was among the last people to see her alive. She had lost a close friend and mentor, she said.
"I was robbed of a friendship I treasured,'' she said.