Prosecutor: Philip Chism had a ‘goal’ in brutal murder, rape of teacher

Prosecutors and defense attorneys gave their closing statements in the murder trial of Philip Chism. Now, jurors will decide if the 16-year-old was criminally responsible for his teacher’s killing.

Philip Chism wipes his face during closing arguments in his murder trial Monday.
Philip Chism wipes his face during closing arguments in his murder trial Monday. –Mark Lorenz for The Boston Globe

Update: Philip Chism was found guilty Tuesday, Dec. 15, of raping and murdering his math teacher, Colleen Ritzer.

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Philip Chism wasn’t crazy when he killed Colleen Ritzer, the lead prosecutor in his murder trial told jurors Monday. He was focused and unwavering from his horrible plan to take what he wanted.

“He had a goal,’’ Essex County Assistant District Attorney Kate MacDougall said. “A terrible, terrible purpose. And he played it out in the woods and he didn’t care what came after that.’’

Ritzer, who was 24 and in her second year teaching at Danvers High School when she died, was found outside the school nearly naked, legs propped up and spread, a tree branch inside her.

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The slash wounds on her neck were so deep, her vertebra was chipped.

Over nearly 90 minutes Monday, just like they had in 13 days of testimony, jurors heard the competing views of who Chism was on Oct. 22, 2013, the day he killed, raped and robbed his math teacher. Was he a boy in the throes of psychosis, who couldn’t help but listen to the commanding voice in his head? Or is he a malicious, destructive teenager who is faking a mental illness only after getting caught?

At stake is whether Chism, now 16, spends decades in a state mental hospital or an adult prison. Eight men and four women deliberated for more than three hours Monday afternoon before going home for the night. They will return Tuesday morning at 9 a.m.

Assistant District Attorney Kate MacDougall holds up the box cutter to jurors during her closing statement in Philip Chism’s murder trial Monday. —Mark Lorenz for The Boston Globe

Chism, in a suit and slightly crooked tie, watched it all — both the attorney trying to save him and the one who says he’s a liar. He watched himself on screen the day of the murder, as MacDougall attributed his every movement to his ultimate goal.

His defense attorneys say he was psychotic. Why else would a kind, smart, good-natured 14-year-old commit these “terrible acts,’’ his attorney, Denise Regan asked.

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In a soft voice, apologizing for consulting her notes, Regan painted a picture of a boy untethered. Uprooted from his home in Tennessee, thrust into a school and town where he knew no one and had “no place to hide.’’

“What other than an overpowering mental illness could cause Philip Chism to do these acts,’’ Regan asked.

Lead defense attorney Denise Regan gave her closing statement. —Mark Lorenz for The Boston Globe

She pointed to the defense’s expert witness, Dr. Richard Dudley, who has spent decades evaluating kids and teens with severe mental illnesses. He believes Chism heard voices since he was 10. Another psychiatrist treating Chism this fall apparently agreed, Regan said, diagnosing him as psychotic and depressed and prescribing him an anti-psychotic medication.

“When Philip Chism followed Ms. Ritzer into that bathroom, he was not himself,’’ Regan said. “He was not a kind, smart 14-year-old boy. He was responding to the terrible command hallucinations in his head. He didn’t choose to do this.’’

Jurors again saw those chilling videos of Chism following Ritzer into the girl’s bathroom. MacDougall, nearly yelling at times, yet her voice still wavering with emotion, walked them through Chism’s movements. Checking his pocket for the box cutter. Putting his hoodie on. Donning gloves. Opening the bathroom door.

But all those images, while they show deliberate premeditation, she said, don’t matter as much as one.

“The only still image that matters in this case is the image of Colleen in the woods,’’ MacDougall said. “The image that the defendant painted of Colleen: stripped, battered, brutalized and violated.’’

Colleen Ritzer walked to the bathroom in a still from a video captured inside Danvers High School. Philip Chism followed her into the bathroom and attacked her. —Mark Lorenz for The Boston Globe
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Chism’s backpack and school ID was placed nearby — not a sign of irrationality, like his lawyer said, but instead, MacDougall argued, a “terrible signature’’ to his crime.

For the first time, MacDougall suggested that Ritzer didn’t die in the second-floor girl’s bathroom, but in the woods where her body was found.

Why else, MacDougall asked, was Chism so intent that afternoon on getting a friend away from the girls’ bathroom where he’d just attacked Ritzer? Because he thought she might cry — or crawl — out, she said.

“He doesn’t think he’s killed her yet,’’ MacDougall said. “And I suggest to you he hadn’t.’’

Ritzer was incapacitated, but not dead, when she got to the woods, MacDougall said. That’s where he carved those deep wounds, she said, and finished his sexual assault.

“We know Philip Chism didn’t get to finish what he started in the bathroom, because he was interrupted,’’ she said.

Finishing what he started — and taking what he wanted — seemed to be a theme of MacDougall’s closing.

When he shoplifted a knife from a BJ’s Wholesale Club hours after the attack, carefully avoiding the store workers, it was just another example of, “Philip Chism doing and getting what Philip Chism wants,’’ MacDougall said.

MacDougall didn’t spend much time refuting the defense expert’s testimony, nearly all of which, she said, relied on Chism’s own accounts. She noted that jurors won’t have the same luxury.

We hope that the world is predictable, MacDougall said. That there’s an explanation for why something terrible happens.

“There is not one single person in this courtroom who wants to believe that a 14-year-old boy could have done this and not been crazy,’’ MacDougall said. “But doing something so awful does not make you crazy.’’

Scenes from the Philip Chism trial:

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