Documents in Mass. teacher’s slaying remain sealed

Nov 8, 2013, 7:10 PM

SALEM, Mass. (AP) – A Massachusetts judge rejected a bid Friday by news organizations to unseal search warrant documents in the case of a 14-year-old boy accused of killing his high school math teacher.

Philip Chism is charged in the Oct. 22 slaying of Colleen Ritzer, 24, a teacher at Danvers High School.

Several media organizations, including The Associated Press, asked a judge to make the documents available for public view.

But Salem District Court Judge Michael Lauranzano denied the request, finding that release of the documents now _ specifically, a search warrant affidavit prepared by a state trooper _ would likely affect an ongoing grand jury investigation and invade the privacy of Ritzer’s family.

Lauranzano agreed with prosecutors, who argued during a hearing Monday that releasing the names of students who will testify before the grand jury could prompt the press to interview them, which could influence their testimony.

“Some of these witnesses are not equipped to handle the media attention that will be drawn to them as soon as their identities are revealed,” Lauranzano wrote.

Lauranzano also said he considered the fact that the Ritzer family only recently learned of the “sensitive nature” of some of the information in the state trooper’s affidavit.

“This occurred only a few days after Ms. Ritzer’s funeral. Release of this information now, without some additional time for the Ritzer family to come to terms with this horrific event, seems to me to be unconscionable,” Lauranzano wrote.

The order sealing the documents will stay in effect until Nov. 22, when the grand jury investigation is expected to end.

Michael Grygiel, an attorney who represented the AP in arguing to make the documents public, said he was disappointed by the ruling.

“We understand the ongoing grand jury investigation and privacy interests implicated in this tragic case, but respectfully disagree that they should override the public’s presumptive right of access to the search warrant materials, which are public court documents,” he said.

Attorney Peter Caruso Sr., who represented The Eagle-Tribune and The Salem News, said “wholesale secrecy to home search warrants opens the door to unabated police and district attorney actions.”

“The public remains in the dark,” he said.

A spokeswoman for Essex District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

Authorities say Ritzer was killed after school dismissal. Blood was found in a school bathroom and her body was later discovered in woods behind the school.

One of Chism’s classmates has said she overheard Ritzer ask Chism to stay after school when she noticed him doodling in class.

Chism has pleaded not guilty. He had moved to Massachusetts from Tennessee before the start of the school year and played on the school’s junior varsity soccer team.

(Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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Documents in Mass. teacher’s slaying remain sealed