The judge put the Philip Chism trial on hold on Tuesday after Chism reportedly had a breakdown in court and refused to leave the lockup cell following a recess.
According tothe Boston Herald, Chism had a meltdown in the lockup cell after prosecutors said that they intended to wheel in the green recycling bin Chism used to carry Ritzer’s body out of the school, and that they believe this was a trigger for the episode.
The Salem Superior Court judge went to see what was going on, and saw that Chism was lying on the floor of his cell “mumbling, with his eyes closed,” and refusing to answer his questions. He reportedly told his lawyer that he was “going to explode,” and repeated “I can’t take it anymore. I don’t want to hurt you. I don’t want to hurt anyone.”
Initially, Philip Chism, 14 at the time, pleaded not guilty to raping and murdering 24-year-old Colleen Ritzer, a math teacher who was found dead in the woods near Danvers High School on October 23, 2013. However, Chism’s attorney said the teen, a freshman at the time, attacked Ritzer due to mental illness.
“Mental illness is a very broad spectrum,” Boston criminal attorney Joe Serpa said. “Whether or not a person can stand trial is more narrow than whether or not they are mentally ill. A good amount of people who commit crimes are mentally ill. Whether or not they could tell right from wrong at the time of the crime is the question.”
He underwent a 20-day psychological examination and was ruled competent to stand trial for the murder of his teacher.
“It was good of them to concede that to the jury,” Serpa said. “It shows that the defense is not going to waste time on easily proven evidence, and it forces the jury to consider the cause of the attack.”
According to authorities, Ritzer had asked Chism to stay after school the day she was reported missing.
Police said Chism, now 16, was seen on surveillance video following Ritzer to the bathroom, where the initial attack began.
Prosecutors said the footage showed Chism go into the bathroom wearing gloves and a hood and walks out alone about 12 minutes later. He was then seen pushing a recycling barrel, which was found near her body. Authorities said Ritzer was sexually assaulted twice, once with a stick.
Her throat was slashed open with a box cutter, according to authorities.
Police who discovered Ritzer’s body in the woods near the school said that they found a note that said, “I hate you all.”
Although Chism is being tried as an adult, a child psychologist was summoned to assess him.
“The goal of assessing competency is determining if the child was in an acute episode of distress at the time where they didn’t know what was going on,”Nathan Lambright, apsychologist Boston Child Studies Center said. “If the patient was in a highly disregulated state and came back, perhaps, at the moment he may have lost control of his actions. If that is what happened, they are still a danger. If that’s the case, they should be in a mental health facility. But there is little chance that they would not be competent.”
Serpa said that a defendant could be tried without being present in the courtroom if he couldn’t stand to be in the room, though he thought that would look disastrous for the defense. Serpa said that having the client shackled in the courtroom would create create an atmosphere of guilt.
The court is in recess until 8:30 a.m. Wednesday.