BHS students hold ‘mock trial’

Published 12:32 pm Friday, February 3, 2012

ATTORNEY FOR THE PROSECUTION, Alex Jacobik, who is interested in pursuing a law degree, receives tips from Judge George Floyd following the mock trial.

Bainbridge High School’s Mock Trial students appeared in court Thursday, with the Honorable Judge George Floyd, State Court of Decatur County, presiding. The practice, or dress rehearsal session, was conducted in the main courtroom of the Decatur County Courthouse in the early evening, as the students went through the procedures of trying a criminal case: State of Georgia vs. Danielle Capulet. The case is pre-scripted by the Young Lawyers Division of the Georgia Bar Association.

Social studies teacher James Robinson advises the students, who are in the final stages of preparing for competition at the regional tournament in Albany, Ga., on Feb. 11.

The students are coached by local attorneys, in an effort to help them gain an understanding of the legal system while developing skills in listening, speaking, reading and reasoning.

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Robinson, who has engaged students in mock trial procedures and courtroom protocol for 10 years, said some students sign up just for the experience, while others are interested in pursuing a career in law. One former student, Mellori Lumpkin, went on to study law at the University of California-Berkeley, and another, Claire Whitehead, is currently a student at the University of Georgia, preparing to study law.

The mock trial opened with the prosecution and defense attorneys each presenting opening arguments to the jury, and each side proceeded to make its case by presenting witnesses and entering exhibits into evidence before giving closing arguments.

According to the case’s script, Danielle Capulet was charged with murder, felony murder and aggravated assault in a fatal shooting. The defense team presented the argument that she was only defending the life of her son, while the prosecution claimed the woman loved guns and had a “lust for power.”

Closing arguments were presented and at that point the court was dismissed, without a decision from the jury, as is the mock- trial custom. The “jury” is comprised of attorneys who then critique the students on style.

The team of lawyers for the prosecution were Alex Jacobik, Kayla Wagner and Jill Overman. Thursday’s presenting defense team was James Clemons, Katie Roland and Cassandra Henry. Witnesses for the prosecution were Caitlin Cato, Nikki Catt and Anye Miller. Defense witnesses were Paige Braswell, Ty Jones and Carolynn Nixon, who took the role of the defendant, Danielle Capulet.

Spectators in the courtroom included attorneys and judges of the Bainbridge-Decatur County Bar Association, as well as Judge Ronnie Joe Lane, Donalsonville, of the Pataula Judicial Circuit Superior Court. At the conclusion of the trial, they gave comments and tips for improving the student performances.

Judge Lane said he had previously covered the mock trials and thought the students this year showed improvement over past years.

“One objection I’d have made was that you weren’t asking questions…you were testifying … making statements, instead of asking questions,” Lane said. “That would be objected to in a real court.”

“Lawyers ask questions and witnesses give answers,” he explained as he also gave suggestions concerning voice inflection and body language or movement techniques.

District Attorney Joe Mulholland, of the South Georgia Judicial District, also gave some tips for the “attorneys,” saying that the biggest thing to work on is dealing with adversity.

“It’s important to be able to adapt to what others (witnesses) say and come up with something on the fly,” he said. Mulholland said he has judged the finals in past years and he believes this team has the ability to do well.

Superior Court Judge Wallace Cato told the students, “You guys did a good job. I’m very impressed with the presence of mind shown. The first time I tried a case I was scared to death, and my knees were shaking.”

He then advised them to walk and move proudly and with assurance. “From the time you enter the courtroom the spotlight is on you,” he said. “All eyes are watching you, especially the members of the jury.” He concluded his remarks by saying, “All in all I was very impressed. Some of you did better than some lawyers I know.”

Judge Floyd concluded by saying it was obvious the students have put a lot of work into the case and emphasized the suggestions given are only meant to help them. He was complementary of the use of objections and responses made by both the prosecution and defense teams.

The Bainbridge High School Mock Trial team is sponsored financially by the Bainbridge Decatur County Bar Association and the Decatur County Schools Foundation.