The courtroom at the Yadkin County Courthouse was filled with Forbush Middle School students on May 4.
They were not there for crimes they had committed but were putting their classroom lessons into action through a mock trial.
The mock trial has been a part of the student’s civic and government class for the last 13 years. Each year students are allowed to pick a historic trial from a short list provided by their teacher Allen Howell.
“Every year I let them do a mock trial,” Howell said. “The options are key figures in history that did not go to trial most of the time the kids pick Lee Harvey Oswald.”
This was the first year that students were able to take their trial to an actual courtroom setting. The change of scenery was a reward for the students, and Howell said they excelled in their research and preparation for the project.
“Their work ethic was really, really good this year, and that’s why we had them come to the courthouse,” Howell said. “Both sides were very competitive toward either getting their client off or getting a guilty verdict.”
All of the students in his classes were involved in the project. Students were allowed to volunteer for jobs such as defense attorney, prosecutor, juror and witness. There were a total of five classes and about 110 students.
“I took volunteers and I warned the ones who volunteered to be an attorney that it was a lot of work,” Howell said. “I told them that if you’re a witness you’re just responsible for your own testimony, but if you’re an attorney you’ve got to know all of the witness’ testimony.”
Howell says that 90 percent of the time the attorneys volunteer. He said that when he needs to fill spots he always asks a student whom he thinks would do well at it.
Students who elected to be jurors were required to weigh the evidence, take notes on witness testimony and be a part of the verdict. Jurors were also required to write a paper on the North Carolina court system to balance out the workload that witnesses and attorneys had to do. The jury was even escorted by a court bailiff into the jury room to deliberate the verdict.
“The bailiff took them to the jury room, and they deliberated there and picked a jury foreman,” Howell said. “They deliberated for about 15 minutes, and the jury foreman read it to the court.”
Witnesses and attorneys had to spend months preparing their case. Howell said that for the Oswald case the prosecution team gets most of its information from the Warren Commission, which was put together by the government in 1963 to try to determine whether Oswald was guilty since he died before he could be tried.
The defense attorneys are required to come up with possibilities that the Warren Commission didn’t think of.
“They have to go out and find conflicting evidence to what the government was saying,” Howell said. “They do find some and it’s very challenging research project for the kids and they did very well.”
Howell said that the purpose of this project was to bring the classroom to life for the students and get them excited about learning.
“I like to bring what we’re learning to life; letting the kids actually experience what we’re learning,” Howell said. “When the children can turn around and teach me what I’ve been teaching them then I know that I’ve succeeded.”
Howell said that he has seen a lot of response from the students and even from parents. He says that a few students have even decided to pursue law as a career.
“Some of them would really make good lawyers,” Howell said. “I told them that they better pursue that career and to go to law school and not let that dream go away.”
The students finished out the trial with both sides presenting strong cases. After deliberating the jury came back with a unanimous vote finding Oswald guilty for the murder of President John F. Kennedy.
Reach Lindsay Craven at 679-2341 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.