David Le/Staff photo

Fourteen-year-old Philip Chism, of Danvers, is led into Salem District Court for his arraignment.

DANVERS — As he sat, handcuffed, in a Danvers police station interrogation room, his mother sitting nearby, 14-year-old Philip Chism was read his juvenile Miranda rights and asked if he wanted to waive them.

“What?” Chism responded. “Ah, I didn’t hear the question.” 

“Do you want to, do you want to talk to us about … tonight?” asked state police Trooper Steve Buccheri, who along with Danvers police, were desperately trying to find the other person reported missing in town that night, teacher Colleen Ritzer. 

“Ah, not really,” Chism responded. 

But by the end of the night, police would have a signed waiver of his rights and a detailed statement. 

That waiver and statement, his lawyer is now arguing, were coerced by investigators who, the lawyer alleges, pressured Chism’s mother, Diana, into helping them get a confession out of her son.

The motion, filed Thursday afternoon in Salem Superior Court, seeks to suppress the statement and any other evidence that resulted from his detention and the questioning. A hearing on the motion is scheduled for two days next month. 

Chism, now 15, is charged with first-degree murder as an adult, and with rape and robbery as a “youthful offender” in the October 22 slaying of Ritzer, 24, of Andover, his math teacher at Danvers High School.

The motion and accompanying affidavits submitted by lawyer Denise Regan offer the first public glimpse of what happened in the hours after Chism was first spotted by a passerby on Route 1 in Topsfield, at 12:30 a.m.

The 911 caller described the person as “black” and looking “out of place” as he walked along the tree line, heading north, according to Regan’s motion.

In an affidavit signed by Chism, he says police pulled up on the opposite side of the highway, and shined a light in his face, then ran toward him.

“One of them grabbed me by my arm, held me, they demanded to know what was in my backpack and searched me and my backpack,” Chism states in the affidavit.

Chism, who had been reported missing hours earlier and whose image had been spread across traditional and social media, was taken to the Topsfield police station, where, he said, he was searched and police again went through his backpack, asking about various items. 

No choice but to answer

“While they had me in custody, the officers from Topsfield were questioning me and I didn’t feel that I had any choice but to answer their questions,” Chism stated. 

Meanwhile, Diana Chism was at the Danvers police station, where, Regan says, police pressed her to get her son to cooperate. “Because we, you know, we don’t know what the physical situation is with the teacher,” said Lt. Norman Zuk. “So we need to find her as soon as possible.” 

An hour later, Chism was taken to the Danvers police station, where he saw his mother alone for a few minutes. Then two officers entered, he said. 

Chism said he was tired and hungry. “It was about 2:30 in the morning, I had been up all day and I had walked from Danvers to Topsfield where the police arrested me,” said Chism. “I was hungry.” 

He said when the police first asked him if he wanted to talk about what happened, “I said no.” 

Danvers police Sgt. Phil Tansey turned toward Chism’s mother. “Mrs. Chism, you … this was your opportunity. You had expressed to us that you wanted to get to the truth,” according to the motion. 

Diana Chism said she wanted him to have an attorney present when he was questioned, according to Regan’s motion. 

Buccheri, “somewhat sternly,” said, “This is a serious situation going on here.” 

Regan said Diana Chism agreed that it was, but then said she believed she was “being looked at as the bad guy.”

“I just want him to have an attorney,” she told the investigators.

Regan said the trooper sighed.

Chism’s mother continued. “You guys are looking at me. I don’t know what else to say.” 

Then, she appeared to give up, turned toward her son, and said “You make the decision. Do you want to talk?” according to the motion. 

“Then my mother turned to me and said I should talk to them and I again said no,” said Chism, according to the affidavit. 

“Without giving me any choice, and without asking me if I was willing to talk to them, they started asking me questions about what had happened earlier in the day,” he said. 

The investigators told Chism that if there was a chance to help the teacher, they wanted to, and that his cooperation would be noted when they spoke to the district attorney. 

“Explain to us what happened,” Tansey implored. “Tell us what happened.” 

Despite what he now says was his reluctance, he began to talk — but first asked if his mother had to be in the room. She left. 

Regan says Diana Chism asked one more time about a lawyer for her son. “After, whenever he goes to jail,” she says she was told by someone. 

“I answered just about all their questions,” he said. But he complained that he was still hungry. “It seemed to me that they were going to finish getting the answers to their questions before they got me something to eat.” 

After about half an hour of questioning, Regan said Chism was shown the juvenile Miranda warning form his mother had signed earlier and a trooper pointed to a line for him to sign. 

The interrogation was videotaped. Chism apparently was shown security video from the school and asked to point to spots on a map and in a photograph. 

Ritzer’s body, covered with leaves, was found in a wooded area adjacent to Danvers High School. 

Regan argues in the motion that Chism’s age, and his physical condition at the time — handcuffed with his arms behind him, and hungry — made him unable to voluntarily waive his rights. 

She plans to call a psychologist to testify about teenage decision-making skills. 

Prosecutors have not yet filed a response to the motion but may do so prior to the hearing, which starts on Jan. 9. 

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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