The Ritzer family delivered the following statement following a sentencing hearing on Friday, February 26, 2016:
Our family is devastated and feels betrayed, with the restrictions placed upon Judge David Lowy that prohibited him from imposing three consecutive life sentences without the eligibility of parole upon the individual that took Colleen’s life in such a horrific manner.
To understand the impact of Colleen’s loss on those that knew and loved her, click on the images below to watch some of the impassioned statements shared in court last week on Colleen’s behalf (Please scroll to the bottom of the page, or click here, to watch all of the statements in their entirety.)
On December 24, 2013, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) ruled that juveniles convicted of murder could no longer be sentenced to life without the possibility of parole; instead the SJC ruled that such juveniles must be parole eligible at an age that is not equivalent to a life sentence. In, 2014, the legislature set that threshold at no later than thirty years. We recognize that Judge Lowy was faced with a difficult decision, one that was unfairly restricted by the imprudent actions of the SJC that limited the sentence he could impose. Although we very much appreciate the Salem Superior Court’s commitment to carefully weigh the evidence, and with respect for the jury’s decision, last week’s sentence is unacceptable and the laws must be changed. Judges must have discretion to sentence “juvenile offenders” to life without parole, particularly in cases such as this where undisputed and horrific evidence was presented.
Colleen’s family, friends, students and those who admired her have been given a life sentence without parole, but not the individual who committed the heinous acts. This is wrong and unjust. Evil cannot be rehabilitated and does not deserve a second chance. Colleen cannot be provided a second chance, and neither should the individual who callously, and without remorse, took her life.
Last week’s sentencing does not conclude the legal process. The journey to ensure justice for Colleen has just begun. The individual found guilty in this case was sentenced for multiple crimes, therefore the 40-year concurrent sentence prevents parole eligibility at 25 years. Regardless, in 38 years, our family will be forced to again hear the evidence and details from this trial as we attend the first of many parole hearings, which is simply unimaginable to us. The individual responsible will only be 54 years old when parole eligible. At each hearing, we will be forced to relive that day. However, we want to be very clear: at every parole hearing our family’s voice – Colleen’s voice – will be heard.
The decision of the SJC was not only disrespectful to Colleen, but also to those who love her. The SJC betrayed all victims and their families. We are hopeful that the Governor and legislature will recognize the great injustice imposed by the SJC and remedy this decision that extends compassion to criminals and disregards the dignity of victims and their families. While such an amended law will not provide justice for Colleen, it will enable judges to use their discretion when weighing just sentences for future victims and their families.
In handing down his sentence, Judge Lowy stated:
“When something terrible happens people will often say: “It could always be worse.” It is difficult for this Court to imagine what could be worse for an individual or a family to endure than the brutal and senseless murder of Colleen Ritzer. Colleen Ritzer lived a life of quiet heroism. That’s what most teachers do. Henry Adams observed that “(a) teacher affects eternity; (she) can never tell where (her) influence stops.” Colleen Ritzer’s parents, more than most, have learned the reach of their daughter’s influence, but at a cost no parent should have to endure. Colleen Ritzer loved her job, her family friends, students, and coworkers-the depth of that love was manifest today. She was loved and valued by her family, friends, students and so many people whose lives she touched. To paraphrase the book of Proverbs: “Who can find a woman of valor; her value is far beyond pearls.”
We pledge, as Colleen’s loved ones, to apply the same vigor for life that Colleen demonstrated every day, to righting this moral wrong. Although a change in the law will not impact our family, an amended law is necessary to ensure that families facing similar circumstances in the future are provided some degree of hope that judges can impose just sentences against individuals who commit horrific crimes.
Please click on the below image to watch all of the impact statements, in their entirety.