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Mock murder trial sums up months of learning experiences

Becky Vargo • May 2, 2018 at 10:00 AM

Ottawa County Circuit Judge Jon Hulsing complimented a group of middle school students for basically grinding through what would have been a weeklong trial in just a couple of hours.

Thirty-six students from Corpus Christi Catholic School in Holland and eight students from Grand Haven Christian School conducted a mock murder trial Tuesday morning in Hulsing’s Grand Haven courtroom in conjunction with their studies and Law Day.

“I look forward to this mock trial exercise every year, as it is an extremely fun and enjoyable part of the job,” Hulsing said. “Watching these young people stepping out of their comfort zone and engaging in public speaking after many weeks of preparation and learning about the law is very rewarding. Their presentation was awesome.”

Corpus Christi language arts teacher Megan Koster, who is also a Grand Haven Township resident, said that’s exactly why her students participate in it. They learn analytical writing, research and public speaking, and it gets them involved in the judicial system, she said.

The students prepare for the trial for two months, working from a story purchased from the American Bar Association. But the kids write their scripts. They come up with the questions that need to be asked and work out responses, Koster said.

The students began by learning the basics — discussing ethics; distinguishing right from wrong; learning about our legal system and terminology, elements of a crime, the U.S. Constitution, presumption of innocence, and the concepts of reasonable doubt; and the roles of attorneys, witnesses, judge, jury, bailiffs and clerks, Koster said 

Once the student attorneys have a basic knowledge of court decorum, each student assumed a role: writing their own statements, memorizing specific case details and witness statements. The classroom was reshaped into a mock courtroom to enhance the students’ practice and role-playing. They transformed into young lawyers preparing to represent their client and present their case. 

Grand Haven Christian School teachers Tim Annema and Sarah Miller, who is also an attorney, helped guide their students in their roles as jurors.

Law was one of the areas of career interest expressed by the GHCS students, so they did a tour of the courthouse, connected with Corpus Christi and were invited to participate in the trial. 

“This is a follow-up project of (our school’s) Winterim,” Miller said.

Miller said the students took their job very seriously.

“This verdict is more than a decision,” she said. “It changes someone’s life.”

Corpus Christi students have participated in the program for 10 years, according to parent Theresa Asselin. In fact, her oldest child had the same story for her trial, she said. Asselin’s youngest, Emily, assumed the role of lead defense attorney for the trial.

“They learn to respect the process, public speaking and knowing how to behave in these kinds of arenas,” Asselin said. “They also are learning to look for the truth. There are two sides to every story. ... It’s been an amazing experience.”

Koster said she’s obtained a grant from the Corpus Christi Foundation, which will allow the students to spend a day next spring at the Michigan Supreme Court.

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