The court room wasn’t quiet, in fact, one of the lawyers kept looking back to laugh when her objections were overruled, or give a small cheer when they were sustained.
The defendant, a Mr. Willy Freeman, looked suspiciously like a Nikiski High School student, and so did everyone else in the courtroom.
The courtroom was taken over by students of Joe Rizzo’s government class on Wednesday as part of a mock trial exercise where the students played the attorneys, defendant, witnesses and the members of the jury.
“What the kids have been learning this whole unit is how important the judicial system, especially our local judicial system, is” Rizzo said. “Every kid is going to become an adult someday and every one of them is going to end up serving on a jury or as part of a court case. The more informed they are, the better they’re going to be.”
The class had gone through two trials before Wednesday’s, but this was their first experience in an actual courtroom, with Attorney Peter Ehrhardt of 907 Legal in Kenai presiding over the trial.
“It’s really great of the court system to accommodate us,” Ehrhardt said. “They gave us a clerk and everything. It’s such an important part of our community that you don’t get to see often, so it’s great.”
The case is one of Lewis &Clark Law School’s mock trial programs in which the defendant, Freeman, is charged with the murder of their business partner, Devin Frost. “Devin Frost apparently had a gambling problem, and had been unlucky for some period of time,” the case’s background states. So, Frost borrowed money from a local loan shark to pay off her debts, but not before bankrupting the business she owned with Frost. “A few days later, (Frost) was found dead, and through a Buy-Sell Agreement and insurance policy, (Freeman) would become a half million dollars richer,” the background states. Facing the inherent puns and mounting evidence, both the defense and the prosecution battled wits in the courtroom.
“Once we stepped in here, it’s like we stepped out of our role as a student and stepped into our role as attorneys, as lawyers,” said Chloe Grogan, who took on the role of a prosecuting attorney. “We were questioning our witnesses and their witnesses and it became more real for us. We wanted to win, both side wanted to get our answers out, our opinions out.”
At first, the court room intimidated the students, who had been arguing in the library or auditorium before Wednesday. “Being here and having an actual judge, and someone making sure we do good, was nerve-wracking,” Grogan said. “But once we got started, it really got going.”
In no time, objections were flying across the courtroom.
“They really learn as they go,” Ehrhardt said. “… It’s really fun, to have an opportunity to see kids be enthusiastic about things. I love it, too, when they finally figure out they can make objections, and then they’ll lose the objections and get mad.”
The verdict is still out on whether Freeman is guilty of murdering Frost, though. Deliberations were supposed to be held in class on Friday, but in high school sports trumps jury duty.