I was a public defender. They are my people and I will always belong to their tribe

October 29, 2013

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Good morning:

I write just after midnight to say something that has been on my mind all day and night.

I want to put in a good word for Denise Regan, the public defender representing Philip Chism. As I wrote yesterday morning, she released a statement on behalf of Philip’s mother stating,

On October 22, 2013, two families were unexpectedly and inconceivably changed forever. Ms. Chism’s heart is broken for the Ritzer family and the loss of their daughter and sister Colleen Ritzer.

Ms. Chism would like you to know that her son was born in love and is dear to her, very dear. She is struggling to understand this and respectfully asks for some time to process this.

She asks that you know that she cares for the world’s hurt over this and greatly hopes for your prayers for the Ritzer family, the Danvers community, for her son, and all those affected by this tragedy.

I do not doubt that Ms. Chism made this statement, but I have a feeling that Denise Regan helped her to find the right words with which to express her thoughts and emotions.

I say that because I used to do this in my death penalty work. I not only met with my client’s family to show that I genuinely cared about them and wanted to be of service in any way they believed might help them deal with the bad news, including issuing a public statement that I assisted them to write, I approached the victim’s family and offered to answer any questions they had about my role in the case. With a victim’s family, I just wanted to let them know that, although I represented the defendant, I also was a human being who knew they were in pain and would try to answer any questions they had about the death penalty and the procedures that would be followed in the case. My goal was to demonstrate that I was a caring human being, rather than a demon from hell, and open a channel of communication should they wish to contact me.

I regarded these efforts to be a very important part of my job and I sense that Philip’s lawyer shares my belief.

Malisha inspired me to write this post when she made the following comment about the statement:

The attorney seems to me to be top-drawer! What an eloquent and appropriate statement the mom issued! This is how people caught in horrible circumstances can sometimes act — it shows courage under stress and a kind of elegant humility. My sympathy goes out to this woman. OMG, just imagine a family member is arrested for this kind of crime, there you are, what do you say? Unthinkable.

I wrote the following response to Malisha and decided to turn it into a new post instead. This is what I wrote;

Malisha,

I agree with your comment. She’s a public defender, which just goes to show that there are good ones. She stood there next to Philip during the initial appearance with her hand resting on his back. A simple gesture like that is not only a way of reassuring the client that you care about him, it’s a way of demonstrating to the court and the national audience watching the hearing that he is a human being and not a monster. Little gestures like that communicate in a manner that mere words can never match.

The relationship between Denise Regan and Philip Chism is quite different from Mark O’Mara’s relationship with George Zimmerman. O’Mara’s body language demonstrated that Zimmerman was nothing more than a vehicle to fame and fortune for him. He placed Don West between him and Zimmerman and he had the woman lawyer from his office sitting on the far side of Zimmerman throughout the trial carrying out her role as Zimmerman’s designated baby sitter. She never appeared to be very happy about her role as babysitter. She probably spent most of her time wondering why she had sacrificed three years of her life and incurred considerable debt to get a law degree and pass the bar exam just to be a baby sitter and look pretty at counsel table

O’Mara was too full of himself to be bothered with interacting with his client except when absolutely necessary and that speaks volumes about the kind of person that he is.

I noticed that the woman lawyer who represented Jodi Arias in the penalty phase began her closing argument standing behind Ms. Arias with her hands on Ms. Arias shoulders. I thought she did a splendid job of letting the jury know that she cared about her as a human being, despite what she had done, and I think that her demonstration of genuine concern probably played a significant role in persuading several jurors to reject the death penalty.

I think women are much better at feeling and expressing empathy than men.

I have heard jurors say,

We wanted to sentence your client to death but in the end we could not do it because of what that would have done to you.

Please remember that a lot of public defenders are outstanding lawyers who chose to be public defenders because they genuinely care about their clients. Like teachers and nurses, they are not in it for the money. Ironically, Colleen Ritzer appears to have been driven by her desire to teach.

I was one of them.

They are my tribe.


Philip Chism’s attorney issues statement on behalf of his mother

October 28, 2013

Monday, October 28, 2013

Good morning:

Philip Chism’s attorney issued the following statement:

On October 22, 2013, two families were unexpectedly and inconceivably changed forever. Ms. Chism’s heart is broken for the Ritzer family and the loss of their daughter and sister Colleen Ritzer.

Ms. Chism would like you to know that her son was born in love and is dear to her, very dear. She is struggling to understand this and respectfully asks for some time to process this.

She asks that you know that she cares for the world’s hurt over this and greatly hopes for your prayers for the Ritzer family, the Danvers community, for her son, and all those affected by this tragedy.

Collen Ritzer will be buried today.


Colleen Ritzer stabbed to death in faculty bathroom and transported to woods in recycling bin UPDATE 1 BELOW, UPDATE 2 BELOW

October 24, 2013

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Good morning:

ABC News is reporting this morning on Good morning America that police say Chism stabbed Colleen Ritzer to death in the faculty bathroom at Danvers High School around 3:30 pm on Tuesday. Based on a review of videotape and Chism’s confession, police have determined that he transported her body in what appeared to be a recycling bin into the woods behind the school.

After dumping her body in the woods, Chism went to a movie theater and watched Woody Allen’s new film, Blue Jasmine. I have no idea why he selected this film or if he knew what it was about when he chose it. Seems an extremely odd choice for a 14-year-old boy who just stabbed his teacher to death.

His family reported him missing at 5:30 pm. Ritzer was reported missing a few hours later.

Police went to the school to check on her late Tuesday evening and found the bloody crime scene in the faculty bathroom.

Police subsequently responded to a report of a pedestrian walking northbound in the southbound lane of Route 1 around 12:30 am Wednesday morning. The pedestrian turned out to be Chism. He was placed under arrest and transported to the Danvers Police Station where he confessed to the murder.

Chism’s uncle, who resides in Clarksville, Tennessee, describes Chism as a nice kid from a perfect family.

Danvers is located approximately 20 miles north of Boston.

Contrary to reports yesterday, Chism was not arraigned. He had an initial appearance at which the judge found probable cause to support the charge based on a review of the charge and supporting documents. He also denied bail. The next court appearance will be a preliminary hearing, which is scheduled for November 22nd.

The purpose of the preliminary hearing will be to determine whether probable cause exists to support the murder charge based on live witness testimony, as opposed to the more limited document review yesterday. The defense will be accorded an opportunity to cross examine witnesses called by the prosecution.

Given the confession, there is no reason to suppose that the court might not find probable cause.

Chism probably provided police with an explanation regarding why he killed Colleen Ritzer. If he did, they are not disclosing what he said. That is pretty much standard operating procedure at this point. For example, they likely would want to wait until the autopsy and forensic testing have been completed to determine whether the evidence supports or conflicts with his statement.

I suspect they are waiting to see if sperm is detected on any of the oral, vaginal and anal swabs obtained during the autopsy. If so, the next question will be whether the lab can detect a DNA profile for the male contributor and, if so, whether it matches Philip Chism.

UPDATE 1: Reuters is reporting that Philip Chism used a box cutter to stab and cut Colleen Ritter to death.

UPDATE 2: NBC News is reporting new details of the crime today:

A law enforcement source told NBC News on Friday that Ritzer’s throat was slit from the back with a box-cutter in a second-floor bathroom at the school. Her body was wheeled out of the school in a recycling bin, dumped in the woods and covered with leaves, the source said.

Philip Chism, a freshman, was charged as an adult with first-degree murder and has been ordered held without bail. A surveillance camera caught the suspect following Ritzer into the bathroom and then leaving, covered in blood, the source said.

The suspect changed his clothes at some point and went to the movies and to Wendy’s, the law enforcement source said. Investigators found both the suspect’s and Ritzer’s phones smashed, the source told NBC News.

Students said that Ritzer had asked Chism to meet with her after class on the day of the murder. The second-floor bathroom, where blood was found, was to remain closed Friday.

Apparently, Chism sat through the movie, so my theory in the comments that he may have purchased a ticket to the show intending to use the stub as an alibi may be wrong.

He only had 40-45 minutes after the murder to transport her body to the woods, change clothes, and make it to the theater.

I don’t know where he lived and am assuming that he did not go home to change clothes.

The box cutter and a change of clothes nearby suggest that he went to school intending to kill her. Whether or not he did, he apparently had no specific idea about what to do after the movie and his dinner at Wendy’s.


14-year-old Philip Chism is charged with beating his high school math teacher to death EDIT: ABC News is reporting that she was stabbed to death

October 23, 2013

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Good afternoon:

I have more bad news. Another high school teacher was killed yesterday. Her name is Colleen Ritzer. She was a well-liked and respected math teacher at Danvers High School in Danvers, Massachusetts. She was only 24-years-old.

Unlike Michael Landsberry, a math teacher at Sparks Middle School in Sparks, Nevada who was shot to death two days ago by a student who had arrived at the school a few minutes earlier armed with a 9 mm semiautomatic handgun intent on killing other students and anyone who got in his way, Ms. Ritzer appears to have been specifically targeted by 14-year-old Phillip Chism. She was beaten to death after school.

According to CBS News,

Law enforcement officials recovered the remains of 24-year-old Danvers High School teacher Colleen Ritzer early Wednesday, Essex District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett said. The teen, Philip Chism, was arraigned Wednesday in Salem on a murder charge and ordered held without bail.

Ritzer was reported missing late Tuesday night after she didn’t come home from work or answer her cellphone. Investigators found blood in a second-floor school bathroom and soon located her body [in the nearby woods], Blodgett said. He did not say how Ritzer died.

“She was a very, very respected, loved teacher,” Blodgett said, calling the killing a “terrible tragedy.”

The boy also was reported missing Tuesday after not coming home from school. He was spotted walking along a road in neighboring Topsfield at about 12:30 a.m. Wednesday.

Investigators said in court documents that the arrest was made based on statements by the suspect and corroborating evidence at multiple scenes. They said they also recovered video surveillance.

Chism was charged with murder and had his initial appearance in adult court this afternoon (see video below). Bail was denied.

According to CBS Crimesider, students do not know much about Philip Chism. He recently moved to Danvers from Tennessee and kept to himself, rarely speaking to anyone unless spoken to. He was a good soccer player who played on the junior varsity soccer team.

Boston.com reports:

According to teammates, Chism is the leading scorer for the school’s junior varsity team as a striker. The teammates said that on Tuesday, Chism failed to make the team practice at 4 p.m. and also missed a regular team dinner that is usually held at 6 p.m. at a teammate’s home.

Four members of the team said in an interview that Chism was amiable, hard-working, pleasant, and had managed to collect some friends around him in his first months in a new school. They described him as about 6 feet tall, with a love of soccer.

Ritzer, a math teacher, was a young woman with a smile who had always wanted to lead a classroom, a long-time neighbor said this morning.

“She was gentle, with a big smile,” said Mary Duffy, who has lived next door to Colleen Ritzer’s family in Andover for more than two decades. “It makes no sense.”

Here’s a youtube clip of his initial appearance.

After he was informed of the charge against him (an assistant district attorney read the charge out loud), the judge appointed counsel to represent him. Realizing the inevitable, his lawyer agreed to the entry of an order denying bail without prejudice, which means she could revisit the issue of bail at a later time. The judge responded predictably. He denied bail with prejudice. There is no way this kid is going to be released on bail.

I’m just sitting here shaking my head, literally speechless at the violent events Monday and Tuesday.

Who would have ever guessed that being a high school math teacher could be a deadly profession.


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