Psychiatrist: Philip Chism heard voices he couldn’t ignore when he killed math teacher

Defense expert Dr. Richard Dudley testified that Philip Chism was in the throes of psychosis when he killed his math teacher. But prosecutors say the psychiatrist relied almost solely on the teenager’s own words.

Dr. Richard Dudley testifies for the defense in the murder trial of Philip Chism on Friday.
Dr. Richard Dudley testifies for the defense in the murder trial of Philip Chism on Friday. –David Sokol / Pool

Philip Chism heard demanding voices he couldn’t ignore and was in the throes of a psychosis when he raped and murdered his young math teacher, a psychiatrist said Friday during the teenager’s murder trial.

Dr. Richard Dudley, the linchpin of Chism’s defense in his murder trial, painted a picture of a deteriorating 14-year-old Philip Chism, who he met for the first time in March.

Dudley diagnosed him with unspecified schizophrenia spectrum and other psychotic disorder, a diagnosis that was echoed in October by a state hospital psychiatrist.

The mental illness had been building since Chism was 10 years old, Dudley said.

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Prosecutors, in their cross-examination of Dudley, said there’s nothing that proves Chism was facing any psychotic symptoms — other than Chism saying so himself.

Chism, now 16, heard auditory hallucinations that told him to do things, the psychiatrist testified. “Command hallucinations’’ were too strong and compelling for him to resist. His thinking was disorganized and cluttered. He responded to the voices in mumbles.

Philip Chism, right, sat next to his attorney, John Osler, in court Friday. —David Sokol / Pool

The voices humiliated and degraded him, Dudley said, which in turn made him upset, angry, depressed and withdrawn.

When Chism moved from Clarksville, Tenn. to Danvers, Mass. weeks before the murder, he lost the only adult support he had to quell the voices and demanding thoughts, turning increasingly inward until he snapped, Dudley said.

The psychiatrist pointed to Chism’s behavior after the murder on Oct. 22, 2013 – walking around Danvers High School covered in blood — as evidence of his disordered thinking. A sane person would have fled, Dudley said.

The position of Colleen Ritzer’s body in the woods outside the school — legs spread, breasts exposed, violated with a tree branch — also showed Chism was psychotic at the time of the murder, Dudley said.

Because of his illness, Chism lacked the capacity to follow the law and shouldn’t be held criminally responsible for his actions, Dudley said.

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Essex County Assistant District Attorney Kate MacDougall countered that simply because he lacked the capacity to follow the law doesn’t mean that Chism didn’t know that what he was doing was wrong. Dudley acknowledged he just didn’t know with certainty if Chism understood that distinction.

Essex Assistant District Attorney Kate MacDougall in court on Friday. —David Sokol / Pool

Over the course of an hour in her cross-examination, MacDougall portrayed Dudley as a publicity-hungry hired gun who picked and chose what interviews and evidence to consider in forming his opinion, ignoring that which didn’t fit with his diagnosis.

Dudley didn’t look at the testimony of a homeschooled student who had invited Chism to his youth group and bible study, MacDougall said. He only considered interviews of Danvers High students who said Chism was acting oddly, not those who said he was normal. He didn’t consider an evaluation of Chism nine days after the murder that showed no signs of psychosis, she said.

Dudley relied instead on what Chism told him, MacDougall said.

And the only evidence Dudley had that Chism was having disorganized thinking the day of the murder was the surveillance video showing the teenager roaming the school and grounds, she said.

Maybe he should have fled, MacDougall said, but maybe he had other plans.

“What if his ultimate goal was to pose Ms. Ritzer in the woods and violate her with the branch?’’ MacDougall asked.

Some of the biggest courtroom fireworks happened outside of the jury’s view. The judge ruled that Dudley couldn’t testify about what Chism told him during their seven meetings this year – including that he was hearing voices – because it was hearsay.

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A frustrated Regan said that “eviscerated’’ her defense and left her so hamstrung “that it’s taken on unconstitutional dimensions.’’

Judge David A. Lowy essentially told her to appeal.

“If you’re right, we’ll have a Commonwealth versus Chism exception,’’ he said.

But Regan did her best to get all that information in front of jurors, prefacing nearly all of her questions with, “Do you have an opinion as to …’’ while Dudley answered, “It is my opinion that …’’

Dudley will be back on the stand, still under cross-examination, on Monday. Jurors could get the case as early as Tuesday.

Scenes from the Philip Chism trial:

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