A Massachusetts teenager was driven by severe mental illness to rape and kill his high school math teacher, his defense attorney told jurors as the teen's trial got underway Monday.
Philip Chism, 16, is charged with murder in the October 2013 slaying of 24-year-old Danvers High School teacher Colleen Ritzer, whose body was found near the school, north of Boston. She had been raped and her throat was slit, officials said.
Chism was 14 at the time. He has pleaded not guilty and is being tried as an adult in Essex Superior Court in Salem.
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Prosecutor Kate MacDougall said in her opening statement Monday that Chism went to school on the day Ritzer died with a "terrible purpose": to kill his teacher.
She said Chism — who toted a backpack containing a box cutter, gloves and a mask — followed Ritzer into a bathroom after school, strangled her and slit her throat with the box cutter, then raped and killed her. Ritzer was allegedly cut and stabbed with the box cutter at least 16 times.
One of the first witnesses to testify was a police officer who spotted Chism walking along a highway in the neighboring town of Topsfield and brought him to a police station.
Officer Neal Hovey said he found a bloody box cutter and a woman's wallet in Chism's backpack. When he asked Chism whose blood it was, he replied, "It's the girl's," Hovey testified.
The defense acknowledged Monday that Chism committed the crime.
"Philip Chism killed Colleen Ritzer," and did "unspeakable things to her body," defense attorney Denise Regan said in her opening statement to jurors.
But Chism's attorneys said the teen, who had moved to Massachusetts from Clarksville, Tennessee, should not be held criminally responsible. Regan said Chism is "severely mentally ill" and has suffered from a psychotic disorder since the age of 10.
Jury selection had been suspended several weeks while the judge considered Chism's mental health before finding him competent to understand the court proceedings and assist with his defense.