ROMNEY — A student was found guilty of murder after a brief trial at the county judicial center last week.
He was remanded to Hampshire High to serve out the rest of the school year, along with the judge, jury and a busload of other students from Beth See’s English classes who participated in the proceedings.
It was all an academic exercise – a mock trial staged with help from Circuit Court Judge Charlie Carl, who addressed the students before the trial began, explaining the courtroom layout and introducing staff members, including law clerk Jamie Ketterman and court reporter Susan Landes, with a suggestion that the students consider their occupations as possible careers.
He then yielded the bench to HHS student Brandon Davis, the judge presiding over the trial.
See had provided her attorneys and witnesses with a script based on a case she identified as the State of West Virginia v. Travis Mitchell. Class members assumed roles, while members of See’s other classes served as jury and spectators.
Defendant Matthew Kerns was represented by attorneys Brae’leigh Riggleman and Tyler Weaver, with Daniel Barbe and Lucas Montgomery serving as prosecuting attorneys.
Bailiff Seth Eaton, jury foreman Savana Stotler and law clerks Dennis Davis and Lexi Swick staffed the courtroom.
The students had reacted enthusiastically to the project, See said, spending the previous week rehearsing and preparing exhibits.
“It should be fun,” said prosecuting attorney Daniel Barbe as the trial began.
Principal DiAnna Liller arranged for bus transportation from the high school, but the bus was scheduled to return rather than waiting for the students, creating a problem when it was discovered that one of the trial exhibits they had prepared – a pair of tennis shoes – had been left on the bus.
A quick-thinking student substituted a pair of shoes surrendered by a member of the audience and the show went on.
The trial itself featured a defendant with an IQ of 80 who might have been pressured into a false confession, a good bit of circumstantial evidence and inconsistencies in reports as to where a key piece of evidence had been found.
In the end, the jury found the defendant guilty, but a voice from the audience loudly inquiring if the jury had been watching the same trial made it clear that the defense mounted by student attorneys Riggleman and Weaver had its supporters as well.
It was all a lot of fun for the last full week of school, but had a serious purpose, See said.
The class staging the trial was composed of talented college-bound juniors, and the trial gave them a chance to practice critical thinking and collaboration.
Practice in public speaking was included as well, with the students gradually warming to their roles as the trial progressed, after some initial difficulties projecting voices in a large courtroom.
See will not be returning to Hampshire High next year, but has hopes that the mock trial might become a regular feature for HHS students.
All they need is for another teacher to pick up the idea and run with it. o