The 16-year-old's attorney says that he is mentally ill, and should not be tried for the murder

By Steve Helling
Updated November 18, 2015 10:45 AM
Credit: Patrick Whittemore/The Boston Herald/AP; Courtesy of Dale Webster via the Lawrence Eagle-Tribune/AP

It has been two years since a popular Massachusetts high school teacher was raped and murdered in a bathroom at Danvers High School, allegedly by one of her 14-year-old students.

Now Philip Chism is facing trial for the attack on 24-year-old Colleen Ritzer – but his behavior is leading some to question whether he’s fit to stand trial.

On the first day of testimony, defense attorney Denise Regan allowed that Chism had attacked his teacher, but said he was “severely mentally ill” and had suffered from a psychotic disorder since he was 10.

On Tuesday afternoon, the trial was halted after Chism, now 16, refused to return to the courtroom after a recess. From the courthouse lockup, he allegedly said that he was “about to explode.”

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“I can’t take this anymore,” Court officer Paul Gaeta quoted Chism as saying. “I don’t want to hurt anyone.” Chism was allegedly shaking, twitching and mumbling to himself in lockup.

Regan has asked judge David Lowy to order an evaluation of Chism to determine whether he is mentally fit to stand trial.

Judge Lowy sent the jurors home for the day, but did not tell them why, instead saying, “You cannot know the reason.”

Proceedings are expected to continue on Wednesday.

Prosecutors allege that Chism used a box cutter to cut Colleen Ritzer’s throat in the school bathroom. Then, they allege, he used a recycling barrel to take her body to the woods, where he raped her. Cops found her body buried under a pile of leaves on October 23, 2013.

Prosecutor Kate MacDougall told the court that Chism may have refused to return to court because he knew they were planning to present evidence related to the recycling barrel.

“I m very concerned about the timing of this,” MacDougall said. “He is not in charge of this process. I m concerned he thinks he is.”