Colleen Ritzer, a high school maths teacher, was raped and murdered last October.
On Wednesday, a 14-year-old boy was accused of killing her and pleaded not guilty to murder, aggravated rape and armed robbery charges.
Philip Chism was indicted last month, and had already pleaded not guilty in District Court. However, the case was moved to Superior Court and his attorney agreed on Wednesday to a prosecution request that he remain held without bail. The hearing lasted for about 15 minutes.
Colleen Ritzer’s family and friends were present in the courtroom to witness the proceedings. Chism’s mother, Diana Chism, was crying when he was taken into court.
Ritzer’s family have released a statement saying they “remain devastated” by her death, but are “strengthened by the tremendous outpouring of love and support we have received,” including donations for a scholarship fund in her name.
Assistant District Attorney Kate MacDougall said Wednesday that they had found nothing during the investigation related to mental health issues. Chism’s lawyer, Denise Regan, said she would raise the issue if, and when, she thought it appropriate. As yet, the police haven’t released a motive for the murder of Colleen Ritzer.
On the day of the killing, students told police that Chism stayed after school. One student said she had also stayed after school to receive extra help that day. She said that Chism appeared to become upset when Ritzer talked about Tennessee.
A surveillance video showed Chism following Ritzer into a school bathroom, wearing gloves and a hood. Later, he left the bathroom alone.
The video also shows Chism pulling a recycling barrel through the school and dragging it outside. A recycling barrel was found near Colleen Ritzer’s body. Authorities said she had been sexually assaulted with a stick.
Although only 14, Chism is charged with murder as an adult. On the other elements of the indictment he is charged as a youthful offender on aggravated rape and armed robbery charges; these are pending in juvenile court.
Superior Court Judge Howard Whitehead was sworn as a special Juvenile Court judge on Wednesday so that he could hear all the charges together.
MacDougall said that the prosecution wants Chism be tried on all the charges in Superior Court. She argues that the robbery and rape were “part and parcel” of the murder. Regan indicated she would probably not agree to that.
The legal issues raised in this case are so complicated that the judge said he may have to apply to the state Appeals Court. A pretrial hearing was scheduled for Jan. 30.
There seems to be little doubt that Philip Chism killed Colleen Ritzer. The question is – why?