SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Local News

November 5, 2013

Judge mulls request to unseal details in teacher's slaying

SALEM — Prosecutors yesterday sought to dispel some of the more sensational speculation about the slaying of a popular Danvers High School teacher last month, even as they fought to keep most of the details about the case under wraps for at least a few more weeks.

Colleen Ritzer, 24, of Andover, was found dead in a wooded area near the school on Oct. 23; her 14-year-old student, Philip Chism, has been charged with first-degree murder.

But with few details released by authorities, there has been some speculation as to motive.

“There is absolutely no evidence of any misconduct or wrongdoing by Ms. Ritzer,” prosecutor David O’Sullivan said during a hearing on a motion by attorneys for several news organizations, including The Salem News, to unseal search warrant materials in the case.

Lawyers for the newspaper, its sister paper The Eagle-Tribune, The Danvers Herald, the Associated Press and The Boston Globe argued yesterday that the decision by Salem District Court Judge Michael Lauranzano to seal the documents, including an affidavit detailing evidence in the case, was unjustified under the law, which states that those materials are considered public unless “good cause” is shown for their impoundment.

Michael Grygiel, a lawyer representing The Salem News and several other organizations, argued that the public has a legitimate interest in learning details about the case given the “epidemic of violence occurring in our schools,” something he called a “vital public-safety issue.”

But the media attorneys were flanked by two prosecutors, Chism’s attorney and a lawyer representing the family of Ritzer, all of whom opposed release of the documents.

O’Sullivan yesterday offered to release a redacted version of the documents but said that prosecutors are concerned that the exposure of witness names, including the names of teenagers, and certain details could affect their testimony before the grand jury and their willingness to testify. He and prosecutor Kate MacDougall are asking that the impoundment be extended at least until Nov. 22, when the grand jury is expected to complete its work.

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