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East Texas students focus on law during mock trial in Tyler

May 17, 2018

TYLER, Texas (AP) — A jury of 12 eighth-graders, six from Bishop T.K. Gorman Regional Catholic School and six from All Saints Episcopal School, recently sentenced a man to 30 months in federal prison and two years of supervised release for bringing a firearm into a federal courthouse.

The Tyler Morning Telegraph reports a metal detector near the entrance of the U.S. Eastern District of Texas Courthouse went off as Sam Sleuth walked into the building. He was immediately detained by a U.S. marshal, was indicted by a grand jury, was arraigned, pleaded innocent and stood trial in the Eastern District of Texas during a mock trial.

The courthouse tour and mock trial was a Law Day event for 80 eighth-grade students to get a hands-on experience with the federal court system.

Judge K. Nicole Mitchell talked to the students about the role of the federal court in the judicial system and the different levels of courts in the country.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Frank Coan told the students about the federal judicial circuits in Texas and the different federal law enforcement agencies the court works with on cases.

During the mock trial, 12 student jurors and two alternates were seated in the jury box as they listened and watched Sleuth’s defense attorney, Alan Jackson, present his case.

Coan, the prosecutor, called his first witness, Grace Coan, to the witness stand. She was sworn in and began answering her father’s line of questioning.

Grace said the metal detector went off because there was something in the briefcase a man was carrying.

She went on to say she saw the man who owned the bag and was able to identify him in the courtroom.

Jackson asked Grace about the signs in the front of the courthouse and if she thought the man was supposed to be carrying a gun inside the courthouse. She said she hadn’t seen the signs.

Jackson focused on Grace taking an oath to tell the truth.

Coan looked on as his daughter answered Jackson’s questions.

Jackson asked if her dad had ever lied to her and what her dad had told her about the Easter Bunny.

“Possibly,” Grace said. “He told me he was real.”

Tabitha Harrison of All Saints also was called as a witness.

She also told the story about a man entering the courthouse and setting off the metal detector.

Harrison said she saw the image of a gun on the screen of the X-ray machine, but she wasn’t sure if the gun on the witness stand was the one she saw on the screen.

Nick LaRocca of Gorman was the final witness called in the mock trial.

He reiterated the story about Sleuth coming into the courthouse and setting off a metal detector.

Both sides rested and Jackson asked for an acquittal, but was denied by the mock trial judge Ryan Locker.

“The students learned about the intricacies of the system,” said Mary Schick, Gorman eighth-grade science teacher. “It was a chance for them to see firsthand that what they say can be turned around by each side. I don’t think they realized that.”

Merritt Dial of Gorman was one of the 12 jurors who convicted Sleuth.

She said she learned a lot, but doesn’t believe that she would be able to stay unbiased if she was on a jury during a real trial.

Coan said this is his third time participating in the Law Day event.

“I was able to call my son as a witness two years ago and today I got to call my daughter,” he said.

He said he hopes the students learned about the justice system and the lengths officials are willing to go to to protect their rights while ensuring the safety of the community.

Grace said she didn’t know she was going to be called on to testify.

“It’s possible that I may want to be a lawyer when I grow up,” she said.


Information from: Tyler Morning Telegraph, http://www.tylerpaper.com

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