Lawyers try to get confession tossed in math teacher killing

Author: Associated Press

SALEM, Mass. (AP) – A judge heard arguments and testimony Friday as defense lawyers seek to have a teenager’s police confession that he killed his math teacher kept out of his trial.

State police Detective Lt. Norman Zuk, who was among the officers that interviewed Philip Chism and his mother the night he was arrested, testified that Chism said a “trigger word” had set him off before the murder. Zuk did not say what that word was.

Chism, 15, is charged as an adult with murder and aggravated rape in the October 2013 slaying of Colleen Ritzer, a teacher at Danvers High School. He has pleaded not guilty.

Chism’s lawyers say police coerced Chism’s mother, Diana, to get her then-14-year-old son into waiving his rights and making detailed statements about the murder.

Prosecutors maintain Chism, who had recently moved to Massachusetts from Clarksville, Tennessee, and his mother never absolutely invoked their right to a lawyer. They said Diana Chism considered it but ultimately left her son to decide if he wanted to speak with law enforcement.

At Friday’s hearing on the admissibility of the confession, prosecutors also played audio from Diana Chism’s interview with police. At one point, officers on the recording say, the mother fell to the floor after being told her son may have committed a serious crime. She was offered an ambulance but declined.

Defense lawyers, meanwhile, called on Dr. Thomas Grisso, a retired University of Massachusetts professor and expert in juvenile psychiatry. He talked about the ability of children to understand the implications of waiving their right to not speak with police.

At a hearing last week, prosecutors played other audio from Diana Chism’s interview with police. They also questioned the two police officers who initially detained Philip Chism.

In the audio played last week, Diana Chism said her son did not have a record of violence, but she acknowledged he was “capable of snapping” under the recent stress of his parents’ separation and that his family had a history of mental health issues.

Topsfield police officers Neal Hovey and Joseph DeBernardo testified that they found Philip Chism on a poorly lit stretch of a roadway carrying Ritzer’s ID and credit cards. They also found a bloody box cutter and women’s underwear in Chism’s backpack and noted blood stains on his clothes and sneakers. They also said Chism said the woman was “buried in the woods” and could not be helped.

Authorities say surveillance video from Oct. 22, 2013, shows Chism following Ritzer into a school bathroom, wearing gloves and a hood, then later walking out of the bathroom alone.

A short time later, the video shows Chism pulling a recycling barrel through the school and outside.

Ritzer’s body was later found in nearby woods, naked from the waist down and with her throat slit and a note that read, “I hate you all.”

A recycling barrel was found near Ritzer’s body. Authorities said she was sexually assaulted with a stick.

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