The trial of Philip Chism began yesterday in Salem, Mass., Superior Court. Chism, who in 2013 raped and brutally murdered his math teacher, 24-year-old Colleen Ritzer, has had a chance to reflect on his actions, which not only included stabbing Ritzer in the neck 16 times while simultaneously forcing himself on her, but also stealing the dead woman’s credit card and using it to treat himself to dinner and a show.
So what have Chism’s ruminations helped him come to terms with about the heinous crime he committed as a 14-year-old? In brief, the devil made him do it. Ritzer, he now insists, used a “trigger word” that made him mad.
As affirmative defenses go, that sounds more plausible than his mother’s reaction to learning that her son was under arrest, which was to tell authorities, “Anybody is capable of snapping under stressful situations.”
According to Boston.com, Chism’s attorneys are exploring an alternative theory of the crime: insanity.
They have retained mental health experts to testify, and [Judge David A.] Lowy explained to jurors the particulars of determining whether someone was “criminally responsible.” Jurors would have to find that Chism was suffering a mental disease, and wasn’t able to determine what he did was wrong and unlawful, if they wanted to find him not guilty by reason of insanity.
The judge declined a request by defense attorney Denise Regan to explain to jurors that Bridgewater State Hospital, which is where Chism would be sent if he was found not guilty by reason of insanity, is a medium-security prison. She said it was “unfair” to describe it as a hospital.
Chism, who is being tried as an adult, has been charged with one count of first-degree murder, two counts of aggravated rape, and one count of armed robbery. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges.