Jury convicts Philip Chism of first degree premeditated murder and aggravated rape

December 16, 2015

I expected this verdict because the evidence of premeditation was overwhelming. For example, Chism brought a ski mask, gloves, and box cutter to school the day he assaulted her in the women’s bathroom and slashed her throat with the box cutter.

The evidence of premeditation overwhelmed the defense effort to present an insanity defense. The evidence of premeditation established that he knew what he was doing and the evidence of his effort to conceal his identity and conceal her body in the nearby woods established that he knew that he had violated the law.

The jury properly acquitted him of a second count of aggravated rape based on what he did to her in the woods because she was dead. The proper charge would have been abuse of a corpse.

Chism will return to court on December 22nd to schedule a sentencing date.

Meanwhile, Chism faces a second trial in nearby Suffolk County where he is accused of attacking a female Department of Youth Services worker in June 2014. That case is scheduled to begin next Wednesday.

The Colleen Ritzer rape murder is an extremely disturbing case and Philip Chism is an extremely disturbed young man.


Phillip Chism accused of assaulting a female guard: UPDATED BELOW

June 5, 2014

Thursday, May 5, 2014

Good afternoon:

Philip Chism has been accused of attacking a female guard at the Massachusetts Department of Youth Services where he has been confined pending trial for the murder of Colleen Ritzer, his eighth grade math teacher.

WCVB is reporting:

Surveillance video captured Chism following the DYS employee into a locker room carrying an object that appeared to be a pencil.

He then allegedly began choking her, and as she started to scream he began to punch her, Anderson reported.

Sound familiar?

Chism has been transported to Boston Medical Center for a mental health evaluation.

UPDATE: The Boston Globe is reporting that Philip Chism has completed his stay at BMC and will be released today to the Department of Youth Services. They are not going to return him to the Dorchester facility. Instead, they are going to place him in a more secure facility.

The woman he assaulted has declined medical treatment, so she is apparently OK.

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Prosecution adds new aggravated rape charge in Philip Chism case

February 27, 2014

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Good morning:

Time to update readers on the Philip Chism case in Massachusetts. He is the 14-year-old boy charged with raping, robbing and killing his 8th grade math teacher, Colleen Ritzer.

First, a word of caution. The article discusses graphic and potentially disturbing acts.

A new charge of aggravated rape was added last month, so he now faces two rape charges.

The first charge was based on a stick or tree limb that police found inserted into her vagina when they found her body in the woods next to the school.

I suspect the second charge is based on an STR/DNA test result that detected the presence of spermatozoa that yielded a complete profile matching his known profile. Such a result would warrant two separate rape charges and the delay in charging the second count may have been due to a delay in processing the evidence at the crime lab.

To review the STR/DNA testing procedure, read my recent article about the Craig Michael Wood case, How DNA testing will be used in the case against Craig Michael Wood.

I have been somewhat perplexed by the original rape charge involving the tree limb because I have been assuming it was was inserted in the woods post mortem (i.e., after she died). If that were so, the appropriate charge would be abuse of a corpse.

I have to assume, however, that the prosecution knows the difference between the two charges, so I think they believe they can prove that he inserted the limb, which I also have read described as a stick, in the bathroom before he slashed her throat.

This new rape charge probably preceded that act and may not have involved penetration of her vagina.

The defense is attempting to sever the new rape charge to keep it in juvenile court. Unless he pleads guilty, he will be tried in adult court on the original three charges.

I do not believe his lawyers will succeed in preventing the juvenile court from declining jurisdiction and transferring the new rape charge to adult court.

The Daily Mail, which tends to highlight the lurid aspect of violent crimes, is reporting that investigators in Clarksville, TN, where Chism lived with his mother before they moved to Massachusetts last fall, are investigating a rumor that he tortured cats and set them on fire.

Since motive is not an element of the charges against him, the prosecution could not introduce that evidence at trial, assuming it exists.

It might, however, be admissible at a sentencing hearing.

Finally, the Boston Herald is reporting today that Cellebrite has completed its effort to recover video and photographs stored on Chism’s smashed cell phone that police recovered in the woods near Ritzer’s body.

The Boston Herald states,

What if any disturbing evidence investigators recovered from accused teen killer Philip Chism’s smashed Samsung smartphone to bolster their charges he raped and murdered Danvers High math teacher Colleen Ritzer — and possibly memorialized the horror in pictures — may not be disclosed until the case goes to trial.

The results of that testing have been filed under seal.

I doubt they would have filed the results under seal, if Cellebrite did not find anything.


Updates on Chism, Arias and Thomas cases

December 4, 2013

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Good evening:

Philip Chism was arraigned today in Superior Court and pled not guilty.

I also have updates on Arias and Thomas.

Judge Sherry Stephens issued an order today in the Jodi Arias case denying a defense motion to compel jurors in her penalty phase retrial to reveal their social media and Twitter account information. The defense wanted to monitor the accounts to make sure jurors do not use them to obtain or disseminate information about the case.

Two weeks ago she issued an order banning live television coverage of the penalty phase.

Adolpho Flores reported today for the LA Times that the prosecution played an audio recording yesterday in which defendant Jay Cicinelli could be heard proclaiming that he hit Kelly Thomas 20 times in the face with his stun gun. Cicinelli’s statement was picked up by a body microphone worn by Officer John Ema. Cicinelli is charged with involuntary manslaughter and using excessive force.

Flores reports that Cicinelli’s lawyer, Michael Schwartz, told reporters after court that his client did not really mean what he said.

“That’s not what happened,” Schwartz said outside the Santa Ana courtroom. “What he’s saying is driven by his heightened state of anxiety, stress and disbelief.”

In his opening statements Monday, Schwartz said his client encountered a combative, uncontrollable suspect who grabbed his Taser.

At times what appears to be Cicinelli striking Thomas in the face is him actually hitting the homeless man’s hand to push it away from the stun gun, Schwartz said.

“An officer is trained in the state of California to never relinquish the weapon to a suspect,” Schwartz said.

Yeah, sure. You betcha.

Flores also summarized the videotape of the encounter between police and Thomas.

Jurors on Tuesday were also shown security footage of the encounter between Thomas and police outside a Fullerton bus depot. The 33-minute video is a compilation of cameras from the bus depot and audio from recording devices worn by police officers.

The grainy black and white video is a key piece of evidence in the prosecution’s case and captured the Fullerton police officers hitting Thomas with batons and a Taser, in addition to shocking him with the device. Several people, including Thomas’ mother, cried as the tape played.

Thomas was in a coma after the incident and died five days later.

The footage begins with Ramos approaching Thomas after receiving a 911 call of someone attempting to break into cars.

To read the remainder of his vivid and sickening description, please go here.


Analysis of the prosecution’s case against Philip Chism

November 22, 2013

Danvers High School ...item 1a.. Pictured: Boy, 14, 'caught on camera dragging teacher's body into woods' (23 October 2013) ...item 1b.. UPDATED: 16:55 EST, 21 November 2013 ...

Creative Commons on Flickr by Marsmettn Tallahassee

Friday, November 22, 2013

Good afternoon:

Go to this link to read the 9-page affidavit filed in support of the application for a search warrant in Philip Chism’s case. Warning: Contains graphic details.

Today I am going to analyze the prosecution’s case against Philip Chism and ask readers to indicate which of three alternative ways of proving first degree murder they would select, if they were to prosecute this case.

The prosecution is not limited to proving only one theory. Separate verdict forms can be submitted as to each alternative way of proving first degree murder. To convict him of first degree murder, the prosecution need only prove one alternative. Proving one, two or all three alternative methods of committing a crime only proves one crime and only one sentence may be imposed for that one crime.

Even though Philip Chism is only 14-years-old, he will be prosecuted as an adult because Massachusetts has a statute that mandates the prosecution as adults of all juveniles over the age of 13 who are charged with murder. If convicted, he cannot be sentenced to death because Massachusetts does not have a death penalty.

He also cannot be sentenced to life without possibility of parole (LWOP) because the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) has prohibited sentencing juveniles under the age of 16 to LWOP.

He cannot be prosecuted as an adult for the charges of aggravated rape and armed robbery unless the juvenile court declines jurisdiction. Therefore, he will have to be arraigned in juvenile court on those charges.

After the arraignment, the prosecutor will file a motion asking the juvenile court to decline jurisdiction and to transfer those two charges to adult court for adjudication on the grounds that, if convicted, the court lacks the resources to rehabilitate him before he turns 21 and the alleged crimes are an inextricable part of a single criminal episode that includes the murder over which the juvenile court lacks jurisdiction. Readers can reasonably expect the juvenile court will grant the prosecution’s request.

Philip Chism will be arraigned on the three charges in adult court. Pleas of not guilty will be entered on his behalf and his counsel will be provided with discovery.

Eventually, he will have to decide whether to go to trial and contest the charges or plead guilty.

Every defendant in a criminal case has a right to be presumed innocent and go to trial, even if he committed the crime(s) charged, and the jury must be instructed to return a verdict of not guilty as to each charge, if the prosecution fails to prove it beyond a reasonable doubt.

Given his confession that is confirmed by the videotape from a hallway camera showing him entering the women’s bathroom while wearing a jacket, hat and gloves and departing sometime after that with her body in a recycling bin, little doubt exists that he killed her while acting alone.

First degree murder in Massachusetts is defined by Chapter 265, Section 1 as:

Murder committed with deliberately premeditated malice aforethought, or with extreme atrocity or cruelty, or in the commission or attempted commission of a crime punishable with death or imprisonment for life, is murder in the first degree.

Notice that there are 3 ways to commit this crime:

(1) Murder committed with deliberately premeditated malice aforethought;

(2) Murder committed with extreme atrocity or cruelty; or

(3) Murder committed in the commission or attempted commission of a crime punishable with death or imprisonment for life.

Analysis of the statute

The prosecution may be able to prove that he committed the murder by each of the following three methods.

He came to school with a box cutter, balaklava ski mask, gloves and multiple changes of clothing strongly suggesting that he premeditated the murder with malice aforethought.

The second option does not require proof of intent to kill or premeditation, if the murder itself demonstrated extreme atrocity or cruelty. The use of a boxcutter to slash her throat from behind while gripping her hair and pulling her head back suggests extreme atrocity or cruelty as would the use of the box cutter ante mortem to penetrate and slash her vagina (see below).

The third option is a felony-murder rule that does not require proof of intent to kill or premeditation, if the murder occurred during the commission of a felony that can result in a life sentence. Aggravated rape and armed robbery are felonies that can result in life sentences, so a murder committed during the commission of either those felonies would be a first degree murder.

Aggravated rape requires proof of penetration of the vagina, no matter how slight, with the penis or finger(s), or an object and proof of the use of force or threatened use of force. Massachusetts defines penetration of the mouth or anus as “unnatural sexual intercourse.”

Proof beyond a reasonable doubt of any of the following three felonies will satisfy the use-of-force element:

(1) assault with a dangerous weapon; or

(2) robbery; or

(3) armed robbery.

According to the news report last night, the prosecution has alleged that he penetrated her vagina with an object. If the object is the box cutter used ante mortem, that would likely establish that the murder was committed with extreme atrocity or cruelty.

Her body was found in the woods supine with her legs spread and a tree branch inserted into her vagina. Since this staging occurred post mortem, it should not be considered as evidence establishing that the murder was committed with extreme atrocity or cruelty.

Police also found a note with the body that said, “I hate you all.”

If you were prosecuting this case, which alternative way of proving first degree murder would you choose (assuming you had to choose one)?

Or, which alternatives are the easiest and weakest to prove and why?

Here’s a link to a Boston Globe story about the affidavit.


Philip Chism indicted by grand jury today for first degree murder, aggravated rape and armed robbery

November 21, 2013

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Good evening:

A Massachusetts grand jury returned an indictment today against 14-year-old Philip Chism.

The Boston Globe has the story.

Philip D. Chism was indicted by an Essex County grand jury today on charges of first-degree murder, aggravated rape and armed robbery, according to Essex District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett’s office. Chism allegedly attacked Ritzer when she stayed after school to talk with him about an upcoming exam, according to prosecutors and students who were in the building that day.

“The indictments returned today detail horrific and unspeakable acts,” Blodgett said in a statement. “This is the first step in a long process to secure justice for Ms. Ritzer and her family.”

/snip/

Chism allegedly sexually assaulted the victim with an object. The aggravated rape charge is brought when there was serious bodily harm or when the rape was committed during another violent felonious crime or both, prosecutors said.

Prosecutors also allege that Chism, armed with a box cutter, robbed the victim of credit cards, an iPhone, and her underwear.

Ugly, ugly crime.

This is our 765th post.


Why did Philip Chism kill Colleen Ritzer?

November 4, 2013

Monday, November 4, 2013

Good morning:

Why did Philip Chism kill Colleen Ritzer?

Many people are asking that question, including the police. Philip Chism knows the answer, but he has refused to disclose it.

Pursuant to the Fifth Amendment, he has a right to remain silent and cannot be compelled to reveal why he killed her. Therefore, we may never know why he killed her, unless he changes his mind.

This situation raises the following question: Must the prosecution prove motive in order to convict him of murder?

The answer is, “No.”

Recall that a crime consists of committing a prohibited act (actus reus) accompanied by a particular mental state (mens rea), such as premeditation, intent, knowledge, recklessness or criminal (i.e., gross) negligence.

The distinction between recklessness and criminal negligence is that the actor is reckless if he is aware that his conduct will create a substantial risk of causing serious harm or death to another person, yet he goes ahead and commits the act despite the risk; whereas, the actor is criminally negligent if he fails to be aware of that risk and his lack of awareness constitutes a gross deviation from the standard duty to act with due care to avoid injuring or killing other people.

We learned from the Zimmerman case, for example, that Florida defines second degree murder (FL Stat 782.04) as “the unlawful killing of a human being, when perpetrated by any act imminently dangerous to another and evincing a depraved mind regardless of human life, although without any premeditated design to effect the death of any particular individual.” As I noted in yesterday’s post, intent to kill is not an element of second degree murder. The actus reus is committing an unlawful act that causes the death of another person and the mens rea is “evincing a depraved mind regardless of human life, although without any premeditated design to effect the death of any particular individual.”

Relative to the issue of intent, notice that the prosecution must only prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant intended to commit the act that caused serious injury or death, but it is not required to prove that the defendant intended to cause the harm that resulted from the act. This is the critical distinction that eluded the jury in the Zimmerman case.

Under Florida law, the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the act that the defendant intended to commit, which in turn caused the victim’s death, was imminently dangerous to another person evincing a depraved mind regardless of human life. This is a recklessness standard and shooting someone in the chest at point blank range is such an act.

Notice that motive is not mentioned. This is not unusual. Should you desire to check all of the statutes in the United States defining murder, you will find that, with the notable exception of death penalty offenses, none of them require proof of motive. Death penalty offenses require proof of premeditated intent to kill, plus at least one aggravating factor, all of which are listed in the statutes that define the crime. Some motives are defined as aggravating factors. For example, premeditated intent to kill a witness or victim of a crime in order to prevent them from testifying at trial is defined as an aggravating factor in all death penalty statutes.

Massachusetts does not have a death penalty and motive is not an element of the crime of murder. Of course, motive will generally be a relevant consideration at sentencing and that is especially true in Chism’s case, even though the penalty for first-degree-murder is a mandatory life-without-parole sentence. He was 14-years-old when he committed the crime and in June 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down all statutes that require a juvenile to be sentenced to die in prison. Therefore, the court will have to impose a sentence that allows for the possibility of parole, a decision delegated to the parole board.

I suspect Chism’s sketchpad may contain important clues to his motive. He was drawing during class while Colleen Ritzer was explaining some mathematical concepts. Some students mentioned that she walked to his desk and commented about his drawing saying something like, “I didn’t know you could draw.” She then scheduled the appointment after school with him.

Why did Philip Chism kill Colleen Ritzer?

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Fred


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