Chism

Philip Chism listens silently during his sentencing in February for the murder of Colleen Ritzer, his Danvers High School math teacher. 

DANVERS — Video of Philip Chism being questioned by investigators in the hours after he killed Danvers High School math teacher Colleen Ritzer can be shown to reporters or members of the public, but not copied, the state's highest court ruled Wednesday morning.

Anyone wanting to view the video must go to the courthouse to see it. 

The decision upholds both Superior Court Judge David Lowy's denial of a defense motion to seal the recording but also his ruling that the video may not be copied.

"Where this authority is invoked to prohibit the news media from recording a video recording played in open court at a suppression hearing, the news media may report on the substance of the statements made in the recording but will be unable to disseminate the recording itself," the decision by the Supreme Judicial Court says.

Lawyers for Chism had argued that Lowy, then trial judge, was wrong to deny their motion on the grounds that he applied a strict "First Amendment" standard to the decision. The SJC disagreed.

"We conclude that the judge applied the correct legal standard in deciding that motion," Chief Justice Ralph Gants wrote. "We also conclude that, where the judge considered both the presumption of public access to judicial records and the defendant's right to a trial decided by a fair and impartial jury, and where he subsequently forbade the duplication of the video recording and transcript, the judge did not abuse his discretion in denying the motion."

Chism, then 14, was questioned by state police Lt. Norman Zuk and Danvers Police Sgt. Phil Taney in the early morning hours of Oct. 23, 2013, a statement that was recorded on video.

Chism, who will turn 18 this month, was sentenced in February 2016 to 40 years to life, a sentence that drew outrage from the family of Ritzer. The sentence was the result of another SJC ruling, in December 2013, holding that an automatic sentence of life without parole for juveniles, even those charged as adults, was unconstitutional.

The video of the statement was suppressed following a lengthy hearing, the result of a motion filed by Chism's attorneys, Denise Regan, John Osler, and Susan Oker.

They argued that the statement had been taken without Chism having had a meaningful consultation with his mother, who suggested in an affidavit that she had been pressured to help police by getting her son to talk.

Lowy (who recused himself from the SJC proceedings in the matter) concluded that it was not clear to him that Chism was fully engaged while police were advising him of his rights, describing the demeanor he saw on a video of the questioning.

But amid massive media and public interest, Regan moved to seal the video, suggesting its release would be inflammatory and taint a jury pool. Lowy denied the motion, as did an Appeals Court judge, but Chism's lawyers appealed to a single justice of the SJC, who sided with them.

Lawyers for The Salem News, The Eagle Tribune and The Boston Globe then appealed to the full court. The video's release has been stayed while that appeal was pending.

Instead, the public got only descriptions of what the judge, and lawyers in their filings, believed were relevant comments by Chism, including his claim, believed by prosecutors to be a self-serving lie, that a "trigger word" led him to kill Ritzer, one of several comments he made that appeared to blame her and minimize his actions.

"The judge recognized that release of the video recording and transcript 'necessarily involves divulging inflammatory content' and would make the selection of a fair and impartial jury 'more challenging'," the decision says. "However, the judge found that, '[g]iven the size of the community, there is no concern that pretrial publicity, even if pervasive, would inevitably lead to a tainted jury or an unfair trial.' He added that he was 'confident' that an indifferent jury could be selected, and that he was 'equipped to ensure [that] the defendant's . . . right to a fair trial [under the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution] is preserved and [to] minimize any prejudicial impact on the defendant.'"

This story will be updated. 

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