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December 4, 2013

Chism pleads not guilty in slaying

Prosecutor: DNA among evidence in Colleen Ritzer murder case

DANVERS — Philip Chism, 14, said just two words during his arraignment on charges of first-degree murder, aggravated rape and armed robbery yesterday: “Not guilty.”

But a prosecutor yesterday said the evidence includes not only a statement made by Chism after he was taken into custody following the Oct. 22 slaying of Danvers High School math teacher Colleen Ritzer, 24, but DNA that is still awaiting testing.

That testing will take place as soon as a defense expert is available to observe the testing, the prosecutor told the judge.

And if Chism’s defense team is mulling an insanity defense for the teen, prosecutors indicated that they are ready to argue that they see no mental-health issue.

“Nothing in this investigation or in the defendant’s statement to police suggests that there is any issue with his mental health,” said prosecutor Kate MacDougall in response to a question by the judge.

Defense lawyer Denise Regan, who had previously filed motions for funds to hire a forensic psychologist to meet with Chism, said only that if she plans to raise mental health as a defense, she will notify prosecutors, as required by law.

Little other new information emerged from yesterday’s proceeding in Salem Superior Court, where in addition to Chism’s not guilty plea on the murder charge, a clerk entered automatic not guilty pleas to the rape and robbery counts.

Chism is charged with attacking and robbing Ritzer in a second-floor bathroom at Danvers High on the afternoon of Oct. 22, then wheeling her in a recycling bin to a wooded area nearby, where he raped her and left her partly naked under a pile of leaves and debris, according to court papers. Police found a note next to her body that read, “I hate you all.”

Those details emerged from court documents released last month. Because there was no issue of bail in the case (first-degree murder suspects are generally not presumed to be entitled to bail), prosecutors were not required to give any statement of facts.

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