Chism gets 40 years to life – Eagle-Tribune

SALEM, Mass. — Philip Chism, now 17, will be a middle-aged man of 54 when he gets his first chance at freedom, after a judge Friday imposed what amounts to a sentence of 40 years to life in the rape, robbery and murder of Danvers High School teacher Colleen Ritzer. 

And that prospect — sitting through repeated parole hearings, forced to re-live the horrifying events of Oct. 22, 2013, however many years in the future that might be — left not only the Ritzer family but District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett deeply angry. 

“On the day that Colleen Ritzer’s life was cruelly taken from her, the sentence for first-degree murder for a person over 14 was life without parole,” Blodgett said after the sentencing. 

Then, on Christmas Eve 2013, just two months after Ritzer’s murder, the state’s Supreme Judicial Court “redefined justice for this family and many others,” Blodgett said. 

The ruling forced Salem Superior Court Judge David Lowy to decide just when Chism might have a chance at parole on the murder charge. He set it at 25 years, the maximum time available — but then imposed 40-year terms on the rape and robbery convictions, meaning that even in the unlikely event Chism gained parole on the murder charge, he must remain in prison until he serves 40 years. 

“There is no ‘right’ sentence,” said Lowy. “No amount of prison time would ever be enough to be commensurate with this crime, and no math will ever erase the reality that this crime was committed by a 14-year-old boy.”

“While this court is constitutionally required to consider that there is always the possibility of redemption, even if the defendant were to live a perfect life from this moment on, his repeated stab wounds to Colleen Ritzer’s young body will remain indelible with (her) family, friends and community until the last person who knew (her) takes his or her last breath,” Lowy said.

The Ritzers, in a statement after the sentencing, called the sentence “unacceptable” but did not blame Lowy, who, they said, was “unfairly restricted by the imprudent actions of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court that decided juveniles who deliberately commit heinous crimes cannot be sentenced to life without parole.” 

The family slammed the SJC’s decision as “disrespectful” to both Colleen Ritzer and her loved ones. “The SJC’s decision was a betrayal to all victims and their families,” said Tom Ritzer. 

The family’s remarks came after a day-long hearing, where both Peggie and Tom Ritzer, their children Laura and Dan, and five others delivered emotional victim-impact statements to the court, many of them also taking issue with the SJC ruling that in many ways tied the judge’s hands. 

They also unanimously chose not to refer to Chism by name, simply calling him “evil.” 

“He is pure evil, and evil can never be rehabilitated,” Peggie Ritzer told Lowy. 

“On Oct. 22, 2013, our world ended,” said Tom Ritzer, Colleen’s father. 

On that afternoon, Tom Ritzer walked the halls of Danvers High School, where his daughter was in her second year as a math teacher. She hadn’t come home that afternoon, so Peggie called Tom, who worked in Beverly, and asked him to drop by the school. 

As he viewed the surveillance video of Chism walking the same halls and stairwells he’d walked while looking for his daughter, Ritzer said, he felt “sick to know how close to her I was.” 

He recalled seeing her classroom for the very first time and thinking about how excited he’d be to tell her when she came home.

But Colleen never would come home. 

“A dad’s job is to fix things,” he said. “I would give anything to be able to fix this.”

“I’ll never walk Colleen down the aisle or give her away at the altar or have that father-daughter dance at her wedding,” said her father. 

Laura Ritzer, Colleen’s sister, and Dan Ritzer, her brother, were at times sorrowful and then, defiant.

“Put this animal behind bars,” said Dan, a college student who had left for school and hadn’t seen his sister again before she was killed.

And though they know they’ll face a future of parole hearings, Laura told the judge she is ready for them.

“You picked the wrong family to mess with,” she said.

Chism, wearing a suit, betrayed no emotion as each speaker recalled their own memories of Colleen Ritzer, most of them breaking down in tears.

Her preschool teacher, Laura Fogarty, who became a lifelong friend, brought with her photos of a young Colleen, even then smiling the now-familiar bright, wide smile, standing next to her at her wedding. 

“This broken world that we live in needed Colleen Ritzer,” Fogarty said.

Her best friend since kindergarten, Jennifer Berger, broke down in tears as she told the judge how much she misses Colleen.

“I was robbed of a friendship I treasured,” said Colleen’s colleague, Sarah Giaquinta, who was a witness in the trial. 

“He took a piece of our hearts and our souls,” said Gina McDaniel, a cousin. 

Susan Craig, an aunt who was the first person to speak, said that now, when the Ritzers visit her in Vermont, she still waits for Colleen to come from the car. 

“But she never comes in,” said Craig.

“Colleen Ritzer loved her job, her family, friends, students and coworkers — the depth of that love was manifest today,” said the judge after hearing those impact statements. “She was loved and valued by her family, friends,students and so many people whose lives she touched.” 

Prosecutor Kate MacDougall again told Lowy that Chism deserved to spend as much time as legally possible in prison. The prosecution was hoping for at least 50 years. 

“Philip Chism poses an enormous danger to the public in general and to women in particular,” said MacDougall, stressing the prosecution’s “fundamental mandate of ensuring public safety.” 

The case not only devastated a family, but an entire community. “It shook investigators to their core,” to know that the horrors inflicted on Colleen Ritzer were done by a 14-year-old boy. 

“Simply put, these are crimes that make one’s soul ache,” said the prosecutor. 

And prosecutors found no evidence that there were any mitigating factors.

“We looked, we investigated, we went to Tennessee,” said MacDougall. “We hired an expert to look at the juvenile brain.” 

But they found nothing to mitigate the teenager’s actions. “There is nothing wrong with this defendant that we believe could be fixed,” said MacDougall. Instead, the teen is “manipulative and narcissistic.” 

“He is not a sick child but an incredibly disturbed young man,” said the prosecutor. “This defendant could not have treated Colleen Ritzer with more disdain.” Ritzer was left in a position meant not only to humiliate her but to horrify those who were going to find her, said MacDougall. 

The defense argument — for Chism to receive a chance of parole before his 30th birthday, or, in the alternative, no later than his 40th — was presented by Susan Oker, who began with a series of photos of Chism starting at age 6. 

She said Chism’s actions are “not to be understood, not then, not now.” 

“There is too much we don’t understand to close the door,” said Oker, referring to brain scans of the teen that show that his brain is somewhat smaller in volume than a sample group of other teens. 

Oker said, however, that in the future, there might be tools to help understand “what happened to him.” 

Lowy did take time to acknowledge the difficult childhood Chism experienced. 

“The defendant, Philip Chism, did not start life on third base,” said the judge. “The court points this out not by way of excuse or even explanation, but because it’s true.” Chism’s father, Stacy, was in and out of his life, and when he was, he was abusive, harsh, unfaithful and unpredictable, said the judge. “Although the defendant’s father was not present during the trial, his presence was still palpable,” said the judge. 

Dianna Chism, the mother of the convicted killer, cried during the judge’s remarks. 

In a statement handed out by Chism’s lawyer Friday morning, she said, “Words can’t express the amount of pain and sorrow these past 2 1/2 years have been. However, there is no one who has suffered more than the Ritzer family. My utmost esteem, prayers, and humble respect with with them today as they continue their journey to heal.” 

Chism, who turned 17 last month, will spend approximately a more year in Department of Youth Services custody, where he’s been held since shortly after his arrest. Then, he will be transferred to the Department of Corrections to serve out the rest of his sentence. 

He received credit for the 2 1/2 years he’s been held awaiting trial. 

Regan declined comment after the hearing. An appeal is automatic in all first-degree murders. 

Courts reporter Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, via email at jmanganis@salemnews.com or on Twitter @SNJulieManganis.

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