Public may view videotape of Chism interrogation, SJC rules

Philip Chism during his 2015 trial.
Mark Lorenz for the Boston Globe
Philip Chism during his 2015 trial.

The state Supreme Judicial Court Wednesday ruled that the public may view a videotape of police interrogating a 14-year-old Danvers High School student hours after authorities said he raped and murdered his math teacher in October 2013.

The panel made its decision in the case of Philip D. Chism after The Boston Globe and Eagle-Tribune Publishing Co. asked that the videotape and accompanying transcript be made public.

During the interrogation at the Danvers police station, Chism reportedly told investigators that he used a karate chop to subdue Colleen Ritzer in a Danvers High bathroom, covered her mouth, and twice dragged a box cutter across her neck, killing her, authorities have testified.

Philip Chism was convicted in December 2015 of murdering, raping, and robbing Colleen Ritzer (above).

The interview occurred hours after police found Chism walking in Topsfield on Oct. 23, 2013.

But the recording was never played in a courtroom, and Superior Court Judge David Lowy ruled that jurors couldn’t hear Chism’s statements during his 2015 murder trial.

Chism, who turns 18 later this month, was convicted in December 2015 of murdering, raping, and robbing Ritzer, 24, on Oct. 22, 2013.

He’s serving at least 40 years in prison and is scheduled to appear next week in Suffolk Juvenile Court on accusations that he attacked a state Department of Youth Services worker in June 2014.

In a statement, Ritzer’s family said the decision means they will endure “even more agony” after already being devastated by a 2013 SJC ruling that abolished punishments of life in prison without parole for juveniles.


“The request of the news media to publicize the video is unnecessary, and its only purpose is to satisfy a disturbing obsession with the horrific death of our daughter and sister,” the statement said.

Defense lawyers have been trying to keep the recording and transcript secret since January 2015, when Lowy began hearing arguments over whether jurors could be told about Chism’s comments.

Lowy ruled that jurors couldn’t hear the police interview because Chism didn’t pay adequate attention to his Miranda rights when he agreed to speak with investigators. But he declared that the recording and transcript could be made public.

He later granted a defense request that barred anyone from copying and disseminating the evidence. In their decision, the justices didn’t address the copying issue, meaning the recording still can’t be duplicated.

The SJC ruling said Lowy made the right call by exercising the same authority he could have exerted if the recording had been played in court.

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Judges have the power, the justices wrote, to allow evidence to be presented in court while forbidding journalists from recording anything that could “create a substantial likelihood of harm to any person or other serious harmful consequence.

“Where this authority is invoked to prohibit the news media from recording a video recording played in open court at a suppression hearing, the news media may report on the substance of the statements made in the recording but will be unable to disseminate the recording itself,” Chief Justice Ralph D. Gants wrote.

The decision reverses a July 2015 ruling by Justice Fernande R.V. Duffly, who found Lowy and a single justice of the Massachusetts Appeals Court erred in refusing to impound the evidence.

Lowy was named to the SJC last fall but didn’t participate in this case. Duffly retired last year.

Attorney Jonathan M. Albano, who represented the Globe, praised the decision.

“The decision affirms the public’s strong interest in seeing the actual evidence judges use to decide whether or not a confession should be thrown out due to alleged police misconduct,” he said in a statement.

Under court rules, the evidence won’t become public until the Essex Superior Court is formally notified of the decision.

The Essex district attorney’s office, which prosecuted Chism, and attorney Denise Regan, who represented him at trial, declined to comment Wednesday.

Jeffrey Pyle, an attorney at the Boston law firm Prince Lobel Tye LLP, said the decision reaffirms the public’s right to access judicial records, but he sounded a cautious note on the copying restriction.

“I hope that in the future those kinds of no-copying orders will be used sparingly,” said Pyle, who represents news organizations. “The media’s ability to copy judicial records is the way in which most people become aware of their content.”

Laura Crimaldi can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @lauracrimaldi.