Andover Townsman, Andover, MA

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February 6, 2014

Sentencing debate could delay Chism trial

New charge added in case

The recent ruling that juveniles convicted of first-degree murder are now eligible to seek parole after 15 years could affect the trial and sentencing of the Danvers teen charged with the murder of a local school teacher, potentially delaying the proceedings for more than a year, a judge suggested last week.

During a hearing where Philip Chism, now 15, was arraigned on a new count of aggravated rape, Salem Superior Court Judge Howard Whitehead raised the issue of how this and two other “youthful offender” indictments will be handled.

Chism, who is charged in the Oct. 22 slaying of 24-year-old Colleen Ritzer of Andover said nothing during the brief hearing. Through his attorneys he waived the reading of the charge. A plea of not guilty was entered to the new count of aggravated rape. A grand jury indicted Chism on the new count of rape last month after receiving the results of DNA tests.

Chism through his lawyer is asking for the murder charge to be tried separately from the other charges. Prosecutors want to join the cases together and try all of them in Superior Court.

In the past, prosecutor Kate MacDougall acknowledged, the outcome of the lesser charges would have been secondary to the murder charge, which carried an automatic sentence of life without parole.

But since the Christmas Eve ruling by the Supreme Judicial Court finding that juveniles are entitled to parole eligibility after 15 years, the sentences imposed on other counts could impact how long someone serves. And sentences for adult offenders are longer than those imposed on juveniles.

In addition to the first-degree murder charge, for which Chism was indicted on as an adult, Chism is also facing the rape and robbery charges as a youthful offender.

Whitehead said he’s found no legal guidance for how the offenses should be handled.

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