Granite Park students participate in a mock trial
Jan 15, 2020 12:41PM
● By Bill Hardesty
District Attorney Nava Sharma makes a shocking accusation during his opening statement during the GPJHS Mock Trial. (Bill Hardesty/City Journals)
By Bill Hardesty | [email protected]
Swift justice happened in Judge Celena Peralta's court on Nov. 21 when Samuel Snow (played by Anthony Bianca) was found guilty.
Students from Curtis Jones' and Emily Mijarez's U.S. history classes at Granite Park Junior High School got an up close and personal lesson in civics as they participated in a mock trial held at the South Salt Lake Justice Court.
"It gives the students an on-hand experience. It brings it to life," Mijarez said.
Before the trial, students studied the process, including visits by council members, Mayor Cherie Wood and former Judge Marsha Thomas. They also toured the SSL Justice Court. Lisa Forrester, a court clerk, handled many of the details of making the experience possible.
Typically, the Justice Court handles small claim cases as well as traffic violations.
While the trial is scripted, the verdict is not. Students have done the same mock trial for three years with three different outcomes. The first year ended in a hung jury, the second year, Snow was found not guilty, and this year he was found guilty. The jury members are selected at time of the trial making sure no one could tamper with witnesses by buying them a dessert during lunch.
The district attorneys were played by Nava Sharma and Tu'imana Talanoa.
"Our strategy is to go for the jury's heart," Talanoa said.
The defense attorneys were played by Xavier Yazzie and Ephraim Cano Garner.
"We are going to use wise words. Also, known as the truth," Yazzie said.
Before the bailiff called the court to order, there was a buzz in the air as the audience, filled with excited parents, awaited the trial. SSL council members Sharla Bynum (District 3) and Shane Siwik (District 5) were also in attendance.
The jury heard from a variety of witnesses to the drive-by shooting. The club bouncer (played by Joaquin Ramos-Matern) was the first state witness. Janie Jensen (played by Leeloo Lerwick) was an ex-girlfriend who painted a picture that the shooting was motivated by revenge by the defendant. Two SSL detectives, Chad Darling (surprising played by Jones) and Mary Sinclair (played by Ruby Carranza Gonzalez). Susan Snow (played by Sofia Arostegui Romero), who was the defendant's sister, testified the defendant was at her place at the time of shooting.
Defendant Snow took the witness stand to prove his innocence. He tries to explain away the gun, by saying, "This is Utah, everyone has a gun."
In closing arguments, the state outlined the facts and refute the defense's explanations. The defense pointed out that witnesses said they heard 10 shots, but only one shell casing was found. He finished by asking the jury to reach to the bottom of their hearts and find his client not guilty.
It took some time for the jury to deliberate, but they came back declaring Snow guilty. At that point, eighth-grader excitement came out as people cheered and the district attorney gave each other high-fives.
"I love to watch the kids' reactions to the verdict because they get so excited," Judge Thomas said.