Judge denies request to seal Chism interrogation; Release delayed while lawyers decide on appeal

KEN YUSZKUS/Staff photoPhilip Chism listens to proceedings in Salem Superior Court. He is charged with raping and killing Colleen Ritzer, his Danvers High School math teacher from Andover. He was in court last Friday for a hearing on a defense motion to bar use of statements made after Chism's mother requested a lawyer.

A Salem Superior Court judge ruled Wednesday that the public is entitled to see and hear the interrogation of Philip Chism, the Danvers teenager awaiting trial in the 2013 rape and murder of his teacher from Andover.

But he agreed to delay the release of the transcript and video recording of Chism's Oct. 23, 2013 interrogation to allow Chism's lawyers to appeal the decision. They have until Tuesday to decide whether they will ask a Supreme Judicial Court justice to overrule the decision. 

Chism, who turned 16 Wednesday, is charged with first-degree murder, rape and robbery in the death of Danvers High School math teacher Colleen Ritzer, 24, of Andover. 

The judge's ruling came in response to motions filed by The Andover Townsman's sister papers, The Salem News and Eagle-Tribune, as well as The Boston Globe, opposing the request of the defense to keep the materials sealed even though they are the subject of an ongoing motion to suppress evidence in the case. 

Salem Superior Court Judge David Lowy said that the details of what Chism said will likely ultimately be disclosed regardless of how he rules on the pending motion to suppress the confession. 

Lowy said that the contents of the statement must be considered by him in making a determination of whether it was made voluntarily, and any discussion of that would have to take place in open court. The judge has not yet ruled on the defense motion to throw out the statement as evidence in the case. A hearing on that will resume next week. 

Even if it cannot be used as evidence, the judge noted, it would likely be used as the basis of defense expert opinions as to Chism's state of mind that night, or potentially could be used by prosecutors if Chism takes the stand at his trial. 

Lowy said that while the release of the materials will make jury selection "more challenging," he also concluded that the First Amendment right of the media and the public's right of access to court proceedings outweighs the concerns that the information will taint the jury pool. 

"The First Amendment was not intended to make life easy," said Lowy. 

Courts reporter Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, via email at jmanganis@salemnews.com or on Twitter @SNJulieManganis.

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