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Chism Pleads Not Guilty to Charges in Murder Case, Remains Held Without Bail

There were few new details to emerge at the hearing and the judge and attorneys spent most of the time discussing the possibility of joining all three charges together.

Philip Chism, 14, is led into a courtroom for his arraignment in Salem Superior Court Dec. 4. Credit: John Castelluccio
Philip Chism, 14, is led into a courtroom for his arraignment in Salem Superior Court Dec. 4. Credit: John Castelluccio
Fourteen-year-old Philip Chism appeared briefly in Salem Superior Court Wednesday afternoon for an arraignment on charges of first-degree murder, aggravated rape and armed robbery in the death of Danvers High teacher Colleen Ritzer.

Chism pleaded not guilty to the murder charge, on which he will be tried as an adult, and similar pleas were entered on his behalf for the other two charges, which are currently filed against him as a youthful offender.

He will be held without bail and his defense attorney Denise Regan said she had no objection to that.

Chism, who is accused of murdering the 24-year-old Ritzer in a bathroom at Danvers High on Oct. 22 and dumping her body in woods behind the school, was indicted by a grand jury on the three charges last month. The indictments moved the case from district court to superior court.

There were few new details to emerge in the case at Wednesday's hearing and Judge Howard Whitehead and attorneys spent most of the time discussing the possibility of joining all three charges together.

District Attorney Jon Blodgett had indicated his office would seek to join all three together for the case, and Assistant District Attorney Kate MacDougall told Whitehead Wednesday they see the two charges as "part and parcel with the murder."

Whitehead said the main issue is that the status distinction may affect sentencing and an additional finding required by a jury. But otherwise, it likely won't affect most of the case.

Both sides will research the issue and Whitehead also said he might consider asking the appeals court to weigh in. He said there's no established case law on that point.

Defense attorney Denise Regan said she wants Chism to be tried as a youthful offender on the latter two charges as they are currently filed against him. 

District Attorney's office spokesperson Carrie Kimball-Monahan told reporters after the hearing it remains to be seen whether separate adult and youthful offender charges could be tried together as one case or not.

Whitehead also asked where the prosecution and defense stood on Chism's mental competency.

McDougall said she holds no allusions the case won't head in that direction at some point, but added there was no evidence during the police investigation to call his competency into question.

Regan said she'd like to pursue that as a possible option going forward.

MacDougall said all the mandatory evidence and discovery information has been turned over and only one or two statements in the case so far remain to be finished. She indicated there's no new information at this point.

She did say there may also be a couple "collateral" interviews conducted going forward.

A pretrial date of Jan. 30 was set and Chism's appearance at that hearing was waived.

Kimball-Monahan said she didn't anticipate prosecutors would be filing any additional paperwork at this time with the court following Wednesday's hearing.

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