US boy denies raping, killing his math teacher

2013-12-05 16:33
Phillip Chism is lead into the court room at his arraignment. (Paul Bilodeau, AP)

Phillip Chism is lead into the court room at his arraignment. (Paul Bilodeau, AP)

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Salem - A 14-year-old boy accused of killing his high school maths teacher pleaded not guilty to murder, aggravated rape and armed robbery charges on Wednesday.

Philip Chism is charged in the 22 October death of Colleen Ritzer, a popular teacher at Danvers High School in Salem, Massachusetts. Ritzer's body was found in woods near the school with her throat slit and a note reading, "I hate you all".

Chism had already pleaded not guilty in District Court, but the case was moved to Superior Court after he was indicted last month. His attorney agreed on Wednesday to a prosecution request that he remain held without bail. The hearing lasted for about 15 minutes.

Ritzer's family and friends filled two rows of the courtroom. Chism's mother, Diana Chism, sobbed quietly when he was taken into court.

Mental issues

The families left without talking to reporters. Ritzer's family later released a statement saying they "remain devastated" by her death, but are "strengthened by the tremendous outpouring of love and support we have received," including donations for a scholarship fund in her name.

Philip Chism had recently moved to Massachusetts from Tennessee.

Police haven't released a motive for Ritzer's killing. Assistant District Attorney Kate MacDougall said on Wednesday nothing that the investigation has pointed to mental health issues.

Chism's lawyer, Denise Regan, said she would raise the issue of mental competency "if and when" she feels it's appropriate.

Students told police that Chism stayed after school the day the 24-year-old Ritzer was killed.

One student who said she had also stayed after school to receive extra help that day said Chism appeared to become upset when Ritzer began talking about Tennessee.

Search warrant documents made public last month described surveillance video that authorities said showed Chism following Ritzer into a school bathroom, wearing gloves and a hood, then later walking out of the bathroom alone.

Video evidence

A short time later, the video shows Chism pulling a recycling barrel through the school and outside, according to the documents. A recycling barrel was found near Ritzer's body. Authorities said she was sexually assaulted with a stick.

Chism is charged with murder as an adult. He is charged as a youthful offender on aggravated rape and armed robbery charges, which are pending in juvenile court.

For Wednesday's arraignment, Superior Court Judge Howard Whitehead was sworn as a special Juvenile Court judge to hear all the charges together.

MacDougall said prosecutors will ask that Chism be tried on all the charges in Superior Court, arguing that the robbery and rape he is accused of were "part and parcel" of the murder. Regan indicated she may oppose that.

The judge said he may send the complicated legal question to the state Appeals Court. A pre-trial hearing is scheduled for 30 January.

- AP

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