Jurors Hear Grisly Testimony and Tour Crime Scene in the Trial of Philip Chism, Accused of Killing his Teacher
The judge and jury in the trial of Philip Chism, the Massachusetts teen accused of the October 2013 rape and murder of his high school teacher, visited the scene of the alleged crime.
They went to Danvers High School, touring the building where Chism allegedly raped and killed his math teacher, 24-year-old Colleen Ritzer, a state Judicial Supreme Court spokeswoman tells PEOPLE.
Prosecutors allege that Chism, 14, followed Ritzer into the bathroom after school and strangled her, slashed with a box cutter, and raped her, according to The Boston Globe.
After he attacked her, he allegedly put her body in a recycling barrel and dragged her to the woods nearby, where he allegedly sexually assaulted her with a tree branch. Her body was discovered buried under a pile of leaves.
A day before their trip to Danvers high school, jurors heard grisly details about the teacher’s death.
Medical Examiner Dr. Anna McDonald, who performed an autopsy on Ritzer’s body, said that she bled to death from stab and slash wounds to her neck. She had also been strangled.
Dr. McDonald was unable to determine whether Ritzer was already dead before the second alleged attack in the woods. “At minimum, she was in the dying process,” McDonald told the shaken jurors who saw pictures of Ritzer’s body.
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A Family History of Mental Illness
The defense acknowledges that Chism attacked his teacher, but said he was “severely mentally ill” and has suffered from a psychotic disorder since he was 10.
On Tuesday afternoon, the defense team presented its first witness. Chism’s maternal grandfather testified that the family had a history of mental illness.
Eduardo Barbieri said that his ex-wife – Philip’s grandmother – had a mental breakdown in 1975 and was treated with shock therapy.
“She had a nervous breakdown,” Barbieri told the jurors. “Not once, but many times.” He also testified that one of his daughters also spent time at psychiatric hospitals.
A high school classmate testified that Chism’s demeanor changed shortly before the killing.
“He was a very excited person, very outgoing,” Matthew Lebel testified. “And then all of a sudden he just got very quiet and changed completely.”
Prosecutors maintain that Chism was sane at the time of the killings, because he knew right from wrong and understood the consequences of his actions. A judge on Thursday refused to hear a psychiatrist’s opinion that Chism has brain abnormalities, the Boston Herald reports.
The trial is expected to continue into next week.