Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Teen Charged with Murdering Math Teacher to Use Insanity Defense

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Teen Charged with Murdering Math Teacher to Use Insanity Defense

Article excerpt

Opening statements will be presented Monday morning in Essex County Superior Court in Massachusetts in a trial of 16-year-old Philip Chism, who is accused of raping and murdering his 24-year- old math teacher, Colleen Ritzer, in October 2013.

Chism is being tried as an adult in Salem. His mental state will be the key issue in the trial, with his lawyers having suggested that they will use a mental health defense to argue that Chism isn't criminally responsible for Ms. Ritzer's death, reported Reuters.

According to CBS News, insanity defenses rarely succeed in Massachusetts, but Chism's young age might help convince jurors of a mental health defense.

"I assume the defense will tie it into research on adolescent brain development, in particular, adolescents have a difficult time calculating the future and having a sense of the ramifications on their future lives," Daniel Medwed, a law professor at Northeastern University, told CBS last month.

Chism told a psychiatrist hired by his defense team that "voices" drove him to kill his Danvers High School algebra teacher, according to a review by the Salem News of court papers filed by the prosecution last week.

Though Chism has pleaded not guilty to charges of first-degree murder and aggravated rape, the teenager allegedly confessed to the murder in a videotaped interview after the attack, telling police that the teacher provoked him with a "trigger" word that he did not identify.

But prosecutors won't be allowed to use Chism's confession in court, reported CBS, as Superior Court Judge David Lowy ruled that Chism did not fully understand his constitutional rights before he spoke to police.

As The Christian Science Monitor reported, the insanity defense is seldom successful, particularly in a jury trial. "If as a defense attorney you start off with a sympathetic victim and an unlikable defendant, you're in a hole no matter what defense you've got," says Bob Dekle, a University of Florida law professor and former prosecutor. …

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