Massachusetts Legal Developments Blog

14-Year-Old Massachusetts Student Faces Serious Criminal Charges after Allegedly Killing Math Teacher

It is likely shocking to many people when young teenagers commit violent criminal offenses. Drug offenses or driving offenses are one thing, but murder perpetrated by a person under 18-years-old is often unthinkable.

This week families from the town of Danvers, Massachusetts, and families across the United States, mourned the death of a beloved high school math teacher. reports that the body of 24-year-old Colleen Ritzer, of Danvers, was found in the woods nearby the high school where she taught at about midnight on Wednesday. Ms. Ritzer was allegedly stabbed to death with a box-cutter by 14-year-old student Philip Chism. Mr. Chism was a freshman at the school.

Ms. Ritzer had allegedly asked Mr. Chism to meet with her after his class on the day that she was killed. Security cameras show that Mr. Chism followed Ms. Ritzer into a bathroom, and then exited with blood on his clothing. Sources say that Mr. Chism disposed of Ms. Ritzer’s body by hiding it inside of a recycling bin and wheeling it away. After disposing of her body, Mr. Chism allegedly changed his clothing and then saw Woody Allen’s film “Blue Jasmine” at a theatre. He also allegedly used Ms. Ritzer’s credit card to buy food. Mr. Chism has been charged with first degree murder as an adult and is currently being held without bail.

Under Massachusetts law, first degree murder is murder that was deliberate and premeditated or extremely atrocious and cruel. Additionally, a person is guilty of first degree murder if he or she murders another person while committing or attempting to commit another crime that is punishable by life imprisonment. Murders that are not first degree murders are second degree murders. The degree of murder is determined by the jury in each case.

The maximum sentence for first-degree murder in Massachusetts is life imprisonment. Unlike many other states, Massachusetts has abolished the death penalty, even in first degree murder cases. According to, Massachusetts officially banned the death penalty in 1984. The seminal case that led to the abolition was Commonwealth v. Cruz, in which the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled that the law allowing penalty of death was unconstitutional because it was not applied equally to all defendants; defendants who took their case to a jury trial were eligible, while defendants who pleaded guilty were not.

Interestingly, before 1951, in Massachusetts a first degree murder conviction was met with a mandatory death sentence. While this was later amended to allow for jury discretion, the death penalty was still required in cases where the murder involved rape or attempted rape of the victim.

First degree murder charges are very seriously prosecuted in Massachusetts and throughout the United States. A first degree murder charge can bring with it severe penalties and consequences, including incarceration for the remainder of a person’s natural life.

If you have been charged with violating Massachusetts criminal laws, you should immediately seek out the assistance of an experienced criminal defense attorney. An experienced defense attorney can help understand the substantive and procedural aspects of your criminal case, and may be able to defend your case in court. Contact Edward R. Molari Attorney at Law today for a confidential consultation.


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