Andover Townsman, Andover, MA

News

January 9, 2014

Ritzer family decries state SJC decision

'Betrayal, anguish' over parole potential for juvenile killers

The fact that a 14-year-old could be paroled if he is found guilty of viciously murdering their daughter and sentenced to life is too much for the family of Colleen Ritzer of Andover to bear.

The parents and siblings of the 24-year-old Danvers High School teacher who was found dead in the woods behind the school in October are decrying the recent state Supreme Judicial Court finding that life sentences without parole for killers under 18 are unconstitutional.

The decision by the state’s highest court rendered on Christmas Eve day argues that life sentences for juveniles fail to take into account the potential for young offenders to be rehabilitated. It paves the way for “youthful offenders” sentenced to life in prison to be given a chance for parole.

In a statement released last week, the Ritzer family said it “feels a deep sense of betrayal and anguish” with the decision, saying it “provides more rights to those youths convicted of horrible and heinous crimes than victims and their families.”

“While these convicted murderers are now provided a second chance through the possibility of parole, victims slain at the hands of ‘youthful offenders,’ possibly even our precious daughter, Colleen, will be victimized again and again,” the family said.

While 14-year-old Philip Chism, of Danvers, has pleaded not guilty to murdering Colleen Ritzer on Oct. 23, the decision affects sentencing options for him should he be convicted in the case.

The Ritzers have appealed to state Sen. Barry Finegold, D-Andover, for his help in the wake of the ruling.

Finegold, who met with the Ritzer family Monday night at their request, said they face “an incredibly difficult situation.”

“The family wants to do everything they can to make sure they don’t have to relive it every X number of years, and this is true for any family this could happen to as well,” Finegold said.

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