US boy denies raping, killing teacher

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Thursday, December 5, 2013

SALEM, Massachusetts -- A 14-year-old boy accused of killing his high school math teacher pleaded not guilty to murder, aggravated rape and armed robbery charges on Wednesday.

Philip Chism is charged in the October 22 death of Colleen Ritzer, a teacher at Danvers High School, Salem, Massachusetts. Ritzer's body was found in the woods near the school with her throat slit and a note reading, "I hate you all."

Chism had already pleaded not guilty in a district court, but the case was moved to Superior Court after he was indicted last month. His attorney agreed on Wednesday to a prosecution request that he remain held without bail.

The hearing lasted for about 15 minutes and the families left without talking to reporters. Ritzer's family later released a statement saying they "remain devastated" by her death, but are "strengthened by the tremendous outpouring of love and support we have received," including donations for a scholarship fund in her name.

Police haven't released a motive for the vicim's killing. Assistant District Lawyer Kate MacDougall said Wednesday that nothing during the investigation has pointed to mental health issues. Chism's lawyer, Denise Regan, said she would raise the issue of mental competency "if and when" she feels it's appropriate.

Students told police that Chism stayed after school the day the 24-year-old Ritzer was killed. One student, claiming she had also stayed after school to receive extra help that day, said Chism appeared to become upset when Ritzer began talking about Tennessee.

Chism had recently moved to Massachusetts from Tennessee.

Search warrant documents made public last month described surveillance video that authorities said showed 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, according to the documents. A recycling barrel was found near Ritzer's body. Authorities said she was sexually assaulted with a stick.

Chism is charged with murder as an adult. He is charged as a youthful offender on aggravated rape and armed robbery charges, which are pending in juvenile court.

For Wednesday's arraignment, Superior Court Judge Howard Whitehead was sworn as a special Juvenile Court judge to hear all the charges together.

MacDougall said prosecutors will ask that Chism be tried on all the charges in Superior Court, arguing that the robbery and rape he is accused of were "part and parcel" of the murder. Regan indicated she may oppose that.

The judge said he may send the complicated legal question to the state Appeals Court. A pretrial hearing was scheduled for Jan. 30. (AP)

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