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Students get a taste of the justice system in annual Mock Trials

The courtroom became the classroom for Friday Harbor High School government classes May 27-29.

The annual mock trials were held as part of National Law Month. “Students have the opportunity to interact with local attorneys,” government teacher Jim McNairy said. “Students get to learn how the criminal justice system works in our country and get a further understanding and appreciation for the rights we have under the Constitution.”

Carla Higginson, an attorney and former Municipal Court judge, was presiding judge for two of the three trials and started off both cases with a description of the different roles in the courtroom, such as the bailiff, clerk, jurors, and the prosecution and defense.

All roles other than judge were played by high school students, who have been in government classes all school year. Higginson stressed the importance about an open-minded jury, innocence until proven guilty, and burden of proof.

Students acted as witnesses and experts in three different cases. The cases were fictitious and obtained from a company that writes mock trials for schools.

The first case, May 27, involved charges of elder abuse and neglect. The victim, Ethan Eldermahn, who suffered from Parkinson's disease, was found unconscious in his wheelchair in his backyard. He suffered from severe sunburn, heatstroke and suspicious bruising on his arms and legs, which raised the concern of abuse by his caretaker who was absent when Eldermahn was found.

The next case, May 28, involved the death of 18-year-old Milan Jackson, who fell 26 feet off a clock tower during what the fraternities call "Hell Week."

In this case, freshmen had completed the pledging process at Columbus University, in which fraternities selected freshmen into their groups. Chris Archer, the defendant, was in charge of planning the pledging activities that year.

Archer faced two charges: second-degree murder and criminal hazing. Archer denied both charges, claiming Jackson's death was accidental.

Higginson oversaw the trial; Steve Brandli oversaw the preparation of the prosecuting team. Katie Loring and Kyle Loring oversaw the defense.

The last case, on May 29, was about a high school athlete who overdosed on steroids.

Kim Wilkins was the parent of Chris Wilkins, who died. Wilkins sought $5 million in compensatory damages, blaming the school for her son's death.

Wilkins believed that the negligence of Lincoln High School was the reason her son died. The school district did not contest the amount of damages, but denied liability.

Superior Court Judge John Linde oversaw the trial; attorney Lawrence Delay coached the plaintiff's team, and attorney Mary Stone helped prepare the defense.

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