Colleen Ritzer stabbed to death in faculty bathroom and transported to woods in recycling bin UPDATE 1 BELOW, UPDATE 2 BELOW

October 24, 2013

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Good morning:

ABC News is reporting this morning on Good morning America that police say Chism stabbed Colleen Ritzer to death in the faculty bathroom at Danvers High School around 3:30 pm on Tuesday. Based on a review of videotape and Chism’s confession, police have determined that he transported her body in what appeared to be a recycling bin into the woods behind the school.

After dumping her body in the woods, Chism went to a movie theater and watched Woody Allen’s new film, Blue Jasmine. I have no idea why he selected this film or if he knew what it was about when he chose it. Seems an extremely odd choice for a 14-year-old boy who just stabbed his teacher to death.

His family reported him missing at 5:30 pm. Ritzer was reported missing a few hours later.

Police went to the school to check on her late Tuesday evening and found the bloody crime scene in the faculty bathroom.

Police subsequently responded to a report of a pedestrian walking northbound in the southbound lane of Route 1 around 12:30 am Wednesday morning. The pedestrian turned out to be Chism. He was placed under arrest and transported to the Danvers Police Station where he confessed to the murder.

Chism’s uncle, who resides in Clarksville, Tennessee, describes Chism as a nice kid from a perfect family.

Danvers is located approximately 20 miles north of Boston.

Contrary to reports yesterday, Chism was not arraigned. He had an initial appearance at which the judge found probable cause to support the charge based on a review of the charge and supporting documents. He also denied bail. The next court appearance will be a preliminary hearing, which is scheduled for November 22nd.

The purpose of the preliminary hearing will be to determine whether probable cause exists to support the murder charge based on live witness testimony, as opposed to the more limited document review yesterday. The defense will be accorded an opportunity to cross examine witnesses called by the prosecution.

Given the confession, there is no reason to suppose that the court might not find probable cause.

Chism probably provided police with an explanation regarding why he killed Colleen Ritzer. If he did, they are not disclosing what he said. That is pretty much standard operating procedure at this point. For example, they likely would want to wait until the autopsy and forensic testing have been completed to determine whether the evidence supports or conflicts with his statement.

I suspect they are waiting to see if sperm is detected on any of the oral, vaginal and anal swabs obtained during the autopsy. If so, the next question will be whether the lab can detect a DNA profile for the male contributor and, if so, whether it matches Philip Chism.

UPDATE 1: Reuters is reporting that Philip Chism used a box cutter to stab and cut Colleen Ritter to death.

UPDATE 2: NBC News is reporting new details of the crime today:

A law enforcement source told NBC News on Friday that Ritzer’s throat was slit from the back with a box-cutter in a second-floor bathroom at the school. Her body was wheeled out of the school in a recycling bin, dumped in the woods and covered with leaves, the source said.

Philip Chism, a freshman, was charged as an adult with first-degree murder and has been ordered held without bail. A surveillance camera caught the suspect following Ritzer into the bathroom and then leaving, covered in blood, the source said.

The suspect changed his clothes at some point and went to the movies and to Wendy’s, the law enforcement source said. Investigators found both the suspect’s and Ritzer’s phones smashed, the source told NBC News.

Students said that Ritzer had asked Chism to meet with her after class on the day of the murder. The second-floor bathroom, where blood was found, was to remain closed Friday.

Apparently, Chism sat through the movie, so my theory in the comments that he may have purchased a ticket to the show intending to use the stub as an alibi may be wrong.

He only had 40-45 minutes after the murder to transport her body to the woods, change clothes, and make it to the theater.

I don’t know where he lived and am assuming that he did not go home to change clothes.

The box cutter and a change of clothes nearby suggest that he went to school intending to kill her. Whether or not he did, he apparently had no specific idea about what to do after the movie and his dinner at Wendy’s.


FBI arrests three suspects in Boston Marathon bombing case

May 2, 2013

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Three college friends of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev have been arrested and charged by complaint with federal felony offenses for their conduct after the bombing.

CBS News reported yesterday that,

Azamat Tazhayakov and Dias Kadyrbayev were charged with conspiring to obstruct justice by concealing and destroying evidence. A third man, Robel Phillipos, was charged with lying to investigators about the visit to Tsarnaev’s room.

Azamat Tazhayakov and Dias Kadyrbayev have been accused of going to Tsarnaev’s room on campus after the bombing and removing a laptop computer and a backpack containing fireworks from which the explosive gunpowder had been removed. One of the young men attempted to dispose of the backpack by throwing it in the garbage. FBI agents recovered it from a landfill. They also seized the laptop.

The three young men were in federal court yesterday for their initial appearances.

In a court appearance Wednesday afternoon, Tazhayakov and Kadyrbayev waived bail and agreed to voluntary detention. Their next hearing is scheduled for May 14.

CBS Boston reports that federal Magistrate Judge Marianne Bowler admonished Phillipos in court, telling him to pay attention and not look down during the proceeding.

After the hearing, attorneys for the three spoke to the press briefly.

Harlan Protass, Tazhayakov’s attorney, said his client “feels horrible and was shocked to hear that someone he knew at UMass-Darmouth was involved with the Boston Marathon bombing.”

“[Tazhayakov] has cooperated fully with authorities and looks foward to the truth coming out in the case,” Protass said.

Robert Stahl, Kadyrbayev’s attorney, insisted his client had nothing to do with the bombing and has been cooperating with investigators.

“Mr. Kadyrbayev did not know that those items [reportedly taken from Dzhokhar’s dorm room] were of any evidential value,” Stahl said.

Whether the three young men had any foreknowledge of the bombing and did anything to assist their friend remains to be seen. As I have previously said, complaints in federal felony offenses are used to provide a legal basis to hold people until a grand jury returns an indictment.

The hearing on May 14 will be a preliminary hearing to determine whether probable cause exists to support the charges in the complaint. Magistrate Judge Marianne Bowler will preside over the hearing. An FBI agent will testify for the government regarding the factual basis for probable cause and defense counsel will have an opportunity to cross examine the agent.

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Probable cause in arrests, initial appearances, informations, and grand jury indictments

April 27, 2013

Saturday, April 27, 2013

I write today to clear up some confusion that I may have caused regarding the purpose of an initial appearance in a federal criminal case. I think I caused the problem by failing to mention that all federal court felony prosecutions must be by grand jury indictment. I cover a lot of basic material that most people do not know about our criminal justice system. This information will help you understand why Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s initial appearance happened on Monday. I also provide basic information about grand juries, including when and why they were created. Finally, you will have a more thorough understanding of probable cause and its role in our criminal justice system.

In tomorrow’s post I will look ahead to Tuesday’s hearing in the Zimmerman case and express some choice words to describe the new low in sleaziness achieved by Mark O’Mara.

Do not confuse an initial appearance with an arraignment. An initial appearance is a judicial review of a complaint and affidavit for probable cause to determine whether the affidavit actually establishes probable cause or reasonable grounds to believe the defendant committed the crime(s) charged in the complaint. The defendant does not enter a plea at the initial appearance for the simple reason that he cannot be arraigned unless he has been indicted by a grand jury.

The Fifth Amendment provides in pertinent part:

No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger;

Many states, including Florida, permit prosecution by information. The Zimmerman case is a good example. Florida permits felony prosecution by information except in capital cases, which must be prosecuted by grand jury indictment. Therefore, State Attorney Angela Corey could have prosecuted the defendant for second degree murder by grand jury indictment or by information. She opted to charge Zimmerman by information thereby avoiding the cumbersome and time consuming effort required to persuade a grand jury to indict him.

Prosecution by grand jury indictment originated in England in order to prevent the king from initiating bogus criminal prosecutions against political enemies for political reasons. Transferring the power to charge people with crimes from the king to a group of citizens was a remarkable accomplishment at the time and a very important step in the long evolutionary process from governance by an unchecked monarchy to governance by elected officials.

We live in a different world where grand juries have become little more than rubber stamps signing off on indictments proposed by prosecutors. This is not surprising since grand juries meet in secret without a judge to supervise the proceedings. Hearsay is permitted because the rules of evidence do not apply and the targets of their investigations are not present. The absence of judicial oversight and the exclusion of suspects and their lawyers from participation in the process permits prosecutors to rig the outcome.

A suspect cannot be arrested or charged with a crime unless there is probable cause (i.e., reasonable grounds) to believe he committed the crime.

In the case of an arrest, the police decide whether they have probable cause. However, police are not lawyers. They can and do make mistakes even when they are acting in good faith. Although prosecution by information transfers the power to charge a suspect with a crime from the police who arrested the suspect to a prosecutor, the test remains the same. The prosecutor must have probable cause to believe the suspect committed the crime. The same is true when the prosecution is by grand jury indictment only now the grand jury is making the decision instead of the prosecutor. Finally, in our legal system we have judicial review of police decisions to arrest and prosecutor’s decisions to charge suspects with crimes. The test is still probable cause but now a judge is making the decision.

Judges also review the issue of detention after police have arrested a suspect and booked him into a jail pending a decision to charge or release a suspect by a prosecutor or the grand jury. Judicial review of probable cause and detention in federal court takes place at the initial appearance.

An arraignment is a judicial hearing that occurs after a person has been charged, whether by information or grand jury indictment. The purpose of the arraignment is to formally notify the defendant that he has been charged with a crime(s) and to record his plea. In both federal and state courts, defendants are required to plead “not guilty.”

There is a good reason for this requirement. Arraignment calendars in state and federal courts are busy affairs. Judges cannot accept a guilty plea unless they are satisfied that the defendant knows what rights he is forfeiting by pleading guilty. The defendant also must provide a statement under oath regarding what he did that is legally sufficient to support the plea. Guilty pleas can take up to 15 or even 30 minutes to complete. Therefore, they are scheduled for a different time.

Magistrate judges in each federal district conduct the initial appearances and arraignments in federal court. Initial appearances are typically scheduled in the afternoon to allow sufficient lead time for federal law enforcement agents and prosecutors to prepare the formal charging document, which we call the complaint, and the supporting affidavit (i.e., sworn statement) for probable cause. The complaint and affidavit are filed in the clerk’s office at the United States Courthouse. In turn the clerk’s office notifies the federal public defender regarding the new arrest and that office assigns the case to a lawyer in the office.

The Pretrial Supervision section of the United States Probation Office also is notified about the new case and they assign it to one of their officers. Their job is to prepare a report for the magistrate judge regarding the defendant and to recommend whether he should be released pending the outcome of the case. They also recommend the conditions of the release.

The United States Marshal’s Office is responsible for transporting the person to court for the hearing.

If this process works smoothly, the defense attorney receives his copy of the complaint and affidavit for probable cause with sufficient time to review and discuss it with the defendant in the lockup at the courthouse before the hearing.

At the beginning of the hearing, counsel for the government and the defendant identify themselves for the record and the magistrate judge informs the defendant of the charge(s) against him in the complaint and the maximum sentence that could be imposed, if convicted. He also advises the defendant of the following rights:

1. Right to remain silent

2. Anything he says can be used against him

3. Right to be represented by the lawyer he chooses, if he can afford the fee and the lawyer files a notice of appearance confirming representation

4. Right to have the court appoint counsel to be paid at public expense, if he cannot afford counsel.

5. Right to be presumed innocent.

6. Right to a jury trial

Most defendants cannot afford counsel and for that reason the clerk’s office routinely assigns the case to the Federal Defender, unless retained counsel contacts the clerk’s office and confirms that he will represent the defendant.

In a multiple defendant case, each defendant is entitled to his own lawyer because acting in the best interests of one client often is not in the best interest of the other client. Assume, for example, that you are representing both defendants. Also assume that the prosecutor contacts you and offers a benefit to one client in exchange for a guilty plea and his agreement to testify against the other client. Congratulations! You now have a conflict of interest and have to withdraw from the case, if it would be in the best interests of the first client to advise him to accept the offer because you cannot advise him to do that without violating your duty to act in the best interests of your other client.

Since your conflict of interest would extend to your law partners, the law firm that employs you, or every other lawyer employed by the Federal Public Defender if you work for them, the district courts maintain a list of experienced and qualified lawyers in private practice who have agreed to accept appointments with financial compensation at the rates set by the court. This list is called the Criminal Justice Administration Panel or CJA Panel.

In multiple defendant cases, the clerk’s office appoints the Federal Public Defender to represent the first defendant. Additional defendants in the same case are each assigned to a CJA Panel attorney. I was a CJA Panel attorney in Seattle for 20 years, so I am familiar with the process.

The process I have described is the same in every federal district in the United States.

This process would have been followed in the Boston Marathon bombing case. Since the Federal Public Defender Office would have known that it would be formally appointed to represent Dzhokhar Tsarnaev on Monday, I am reasonably certain that they assembled a team over the weekend to work on the case. The team would have included at least one or two lawyers, an investigator, and possibly a mitigation specialist.

Subsequent news reports have confirmed that a defense team was assembled over the weekend.

I imagine the lawyer or lawyers attempted to meet with Dzhokhar Tsarnaev at the hospital over the weekend, but were denied access. Law enforcement officials can do that absent a request from the suspect in custody to meet with counsel. I doubt he made that request, if he were intubated, unconscious and unable to speak.

The Magistrate Judge also would have known that she would have to conduct an initial appearance for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev on Monday, assuming he survived until then.

I am relatively certain that arrangements were made on Monday morning to conduct the hearing in the hospital at the patient’s bedside with notification to all parties concerned.

I doubt defense counsel were permitted to meet with their client before the FBI’s interrogation team completed its work.

The Fifth Amendment issue is whether the defendant’s statements will be admissible against him, since he provided them during a custodial interrogation without advice and waiver of his rights per Miranda. The government will argue that the public emergency exception exempted it from having to Mirandize the defendant. The defense will argue that the exception has not been judicially approved and did not apply.

A closely related issue is whether the defendant’s statements were voluntary or coerced, given his medical and mental condition. Was he competent to answer questions?

The Sixth Amendment issue is whether he requested a lawyer at any time before or during the interrogation. We know he could not speak and the interrogation team would have known that. Was he denied pencil and paper at the team’s request before the interrogation? Did he scribble out a request that was ignored?

The remedy for a failure to Mirandize the defendant prior to a custodial interrogation is to exclude his statements from being admitted into evidence.

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Update on Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s initial appearance today

April 22, 2013

Monday, April 22, 2013

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev had his initial appearance today in the hospital before a U.S. Magistrate Judge. He was represented by Bill Fick of the Federal Public Defender Office in Boston. Fick confirmed that he will represent Dzhokhar.

He was provided with a copy of the complaint charging him with one count of using a weapon of mass destruction in violation of 18 USC 2332a(a) and one count of malicious destruction of property resulting in death in violation of 18 USC 844(i).

Fick waived the detention hearing, which means he and his client agreed that release on bail is not realistic. Fick will be supported by federal death penalty resource counsel, which may include Judy Clarke as she is one of the resource counsel. As you may recall, she represented Jared Loughner.

Dzhokhar is charged by criminal complaint, which is just a temporary holding device.

To find out more about the case, you will want to read FBI Special Agent Daniel Genck’s affidavit filed in support of the complaint. Go here to read the complaint and affidavit.

The Magistrate Judge found that the affidavit is sufficient to establish probable cause to support the two charges in the complaint.

The case is scheduled for a preliminary hearing on May 30th, to determine if probable cause exists to support the charge, but don’t expect that hearing to take place because a grand jury will indict him before that date.

The indictment may and probably will contain additional charges. He will be arraigned after the indictment is returned.

There will not be any need for a preliminary hearing after the grand jury returns an indictment because a grand jury necessarily makes that finding when it returns an indictment.

________________________________________

Writing articles every day and maintaining the integrity and safety of this site from people who would like nothing better than to silence us forever is a tough job requiring many hours of work.

If you like this site, please consider making a secure donation via Paypal by clicking the yellow donation button in the upper right corner just below the search box.

Thank you,

Fred


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