The jury in the murder trial of Philip Chism spent almost two months hearing the excruciating details of the death of Colleen Ritzer.

They viewed 140 exhibits, including photos, medical records and more than an hour of video. They weighed the testimony of 53 witnesses and heard the arguments of prosecutors and defense attorneys.

In the end, it took the jurors less than 10 hours over two days to decide and "solemnly swear" that Chism was guilty of murder with deliberate premeditation and extreme atrocity and cruelty. They also found him guilty of aggravated rape and armed robbery.

They rejected the defense claim — and Chism's own claims after his crime — that he was mentally ill, driven to do what he did by voices in his head.

No one, aside from the lawyers, knows the case against Chism better than the eight men and four women of the jury. They decided unequivocally that the evidence proved Chism knew what he did was wrong and did it anyway. They found him to be a cold-blooded killer who acted without pity or mercy.

Yet, because of a decision by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, Chism could go free in as little as 15 years.

Chism, now 16, will be in his early 30s when he can ask for the pity and mercy he denied Colleen Ritzer. He can seek parole and early release from prison.

In 15 years, Ritzer would have been only 39 and in the prime of her teaching career.

The state Parole Board will be asked to forget about her and focus instead on Chism's youth at the time of his crime and his prospects for rehabilitation. That's what the Supreme Judicial Court decreed should happen.

After the ordeal of her death and the trial of her killer, her family and friends will have to remain vigilant to make sure that justice, once done, remains done and that Chism does not go free. The fight may last decades. That is an outrage.

The Chism family knew that this would be their burden even before the trial began.

Colleen Ritzer, 24, of Andover, a math teacher at Danvers High School, was killed on Oct. 23, 2013, by Chism, then 14, one of her students.

Just two months later, on Christmas Eve 2013, Massachusetts' highest court delivered another blow to Ritzer's family and the families of other murder victims. It ruled juveniles could not be held for life without parole, even for the most heinous crimes.

The court was following in the misguided footsteps of the U.S. Supreme Court, which in 2012 banned mandatory life sentences without parole for juvenile killers. The court reasoned essentially that young murderers were the victims of brains that were not fully developed and that once their brains matured they could be rehabilitated and set free.

Following the SJC decision, the Ritzer family issued a statement saying it felt betrayed by the court.

"This decision should not be applauded, rather overturned as an act of justice and humanity to victims of violent crimes and their families,” the Andover family said.

At the urging of the Ritzers and other families, local legislators filed a bill to require young killers to serve more time in prison before seeking parole. "Advocates" for imprisoned killers quickly moved to undercut the bill.

The family of Colleen Ritzer acknowledged the struggle ahead, the appeals and the parole hearings, after Tuesday's jury decision. They will keep fighting for justice.

“We will honor her legacy and be her voice during the continued judicial process. Colleen never gave up, and neither will we," her father, Tom Ritzer, said.

"This guilty verdict, while the beginning of justice for Colleen, is certainly no cause for celebration as there can never be true justice for the crime committed," he said. “There remains a tremendous and painful absence in our lives, one that, sadly, can never be replaced.” 

We support the Ritzer family in their continuing quest for justice and urge our lawmakers to right the wrong done by our highest court.

 

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