Challis sixth-graders in Erika Cotant’s reading class participated in a mock jury trial at the Custer County Courthouse on April 8.
Chris Matson and Chelestina Rembelski worked hard for weeks to prepare for the event. With their assistance, and the help of Custer County Prosecuting Attorney Justin Oleson, attorney David Cannon, Judge James Barrett and Court Clerk Laila Plummer, the students experienced the same things that occur in an actual trial.
Students chose a role to play in the trial. Jalie Oerke was the prosecutor. Parker Banks was the defense attorney. Will Whittier was bailiff. The rest of the class sat as jurors. Jury members were Parker Webster, Madeline Smith, Julia Banks, Tai James, Sabina Bennetts, Taycey Runnels, Ramey Rhoades, Jessa Hunt, Makayla Schmuck, Hayden Anderson and Delaney Phelps.
Other volunteers who helped out were Custer County Cororner Chad Workman, John Haugh and Kari Alexander.
The students were shown the same video that jurors see during jury selection. Constitutional rights are discussed in the video. Because the students had studied the Constitution earlier this year, they understood the video, Cotant said.
The trial was a made-up case about a murder over doughnuts. It needed to be serious enough to learn, but not too horrible to upset students, Cotant said.
The case centered on defendant “Mary,” played by Kari Alexander, who supposedly killed a man over a doughnut. Cotant played the maid who looked and sounded guilty. Oerke and Oleson grilled the witnesses and made their case while Banks and Cannon argued in Mary’s defense.
“Both parties did amazing on their questioning,” Cotant said. Oerke and Banks did the closing arguments on their own. “It was amazing to see the two students speak and state their cases.”
When the trial was finished, student jurors returned to school to deliberate for several class periods. Schmuck was chosen as jury foreperson. In the end Mary was found not guilty. There was reasonable doubt. The student jurors had been told by the judge how to follow the law.
The students are grateful to everyone who taught them about the process of a jury trial, Cotant said.