Defense attorneys for accused teen Philip Chism argue that his right to a fair trial has been “poisoned” by extensive sensational news coverage not only of the charges against him, but of the memorials and tributes to the victim, Colleen Ritzer. This Tuesday, a hearing will be held on the change of venue motion.
Chism, now 16, faces a murder, rape, and robbery trial in October. He is accused of attacking and killing his math teacher, 24-year-old Ritzer on October 22, 2013. Attached to the motion are some 500 pages, as well as DVDs, of news reports on the case. His lawyers Denise Regan, Susan Oker, and John Osler wrote in their motion, “The sustained coverage of the lengthy hearings on the defendant’s motion to suppress has insured that a large number of residents of Essex County know that [there was an unconstitutional questioning of] Philip Chism [which led to a confession]…There is little chance of a fair trial where the fact that the defendant has confessed is widely known.”
The lawyers argue since the confession was deemed unlawful by the court selecting jurors who have been exposed to the confession heavily makes the overall exposure to media reports even worse for the area. The motion also accuses North of Boston Media Group papers, including the Salem News and the Eagle Tribune of having “disparaged” the defense in biased coverage and having inaccurate “inflammatory” stories. The defense also points to the fact that the alleged victim was widely beloved in the community and that her tributes and memorials have been just as widely covered.
“Even if a resident received no information directly from the media, it is unlikely that he or she would not have heard of the death of Ms. Ritzer, given the number and size of events to honor and remember her through[out] Essex County.”
The defense names several examples including the moment of silence at the 2013 World series and the Step Up for Colleen race, in which 5,000 people took part.
“Given the strong emotional feeling such efforts invoke, Essex County residents likely possess a bias…”
The prosecution has not yet filed its response.
The defense lawyers also wrote in their motion that while other high-profile trials like that of Patriots player Aaron Hernandez were not moved, others have been especially where the crime was deemed “shocking or repellent”. The last time an Essex County judge moved a trial due to pretrial publicity was 14 years ago when serial child molester Christopher Reardon’s trial was moved to Hampshire County. The trial never actually occurred because Reardon pled guilty and received a sentence of 40 to 50 years in prison.