Campers experience mock murder trial

Photo by Elaine Rackley
Samuel Rainer, 14, (from left) portrayed an accused criminal in a mock trial at a Summer Camp sponsored by the Henry County Sheriff's Office. His attorney (right) was played by James Johnson, 11.

Photo by Elaine Rackley Samuel Rainer, 14, (from left) portrayed an accused criminal in a mock trial at a Summer Camp sponsored by the Henry County Sheriff's Office. His attorney (right) was played by James Johnson, 11.

By Elaine Rackley


"Order in the court!" shouted make-believe Henry County Superior Court Judge Ashley Santana. She was demanding quiet above the roar of the courtroom, and slammed her gavel.

Santana was responding to applause following a jury's not-guilty verdict announced in the mock murder trial of the State vs. Jim Brown.

Santana,12, described as "cool and awesome," her experience.

"I got to say if people in the courtroom had to leave or stay. I don't think anyone I know has ever acted as a judge," Santana said.

The mock trial, and the opportunity for young people to portray members of the law enforcement community, is part of the 2011 Summer Youth Camp sponsored by Henry County Sheriff's Office. The event was held Wednesday in the Magistrate's courtroom of the Henry County Judicial Center. It is the highlight of the annual camp led by Henry County Sheriff Keith McBrayer. Sgt. Jimmie Spence coordinates the summer camp.

The summer camp ended Friday with a graduation ceremony. It is the second camp held this summer, because spaces for the first camp filled so quickly the sheriff had to conduct another one to meet the interest the first camp generated.

"This week we have had another great group of kids," said McBrayer. "As in the past, we really want these students to have a great time, after all it is summer and they are out of school. We know that they will enjoy the fishing, going to the movies, and the mock trial, but we want to leave a lasting impression on them when it comes to decision-making.

"The decisions that they make can affect them their entire life," said McBrayer. "This can be for good or for bad. We drill it into them. I have almost 800 people in jail that made bad decisions. We want these young men and women to make right choices, so their families and the entire community can be proud of them as they become good citizens."

Interns Kelly Speir and Mike Rosolino, from the law firm of Smith, Welch, Webb, and White LLC, in McDonough, worked with the sheriff's office in creating the script for the murder trial. There were things added to prompt the curiosity of campers, such as hearsay objections.

"We explained the judicial process to them," said Rosolino. "Some kids don't have faith in the judicial system, because they don't understand it. Hopefully, after the mock trial, they will understand that the system is set up to protect them."

Before the trial began, Speir, 27, of McDonough, and Rosolino, 25, of Fayetteville, along with Henry County Magistrate Judge Wesley Shannon, answered questions about the justice system.

"What does it mean when an attorney is leading a witness?" asked Drayton DeWitt.

"That is a technique I didn't know anything about until my first year of law school," laughed Speir.

Dewitt, 13, said he learned the term while reading, and watching television. "I was curious about it, " added DeWitt. "I heard about it in a book called "Monster," and I watch the "CSI" TV show."

The murder trial, the not-guilty verdict, the courtroom cheers, the judge's stern warning, and the defense attorney's jubilation, gave the youngsters a strong dose of reality.

"I feel pretty good," said James Johnson , defense attorney in the case who was basking in his trial triumph. "I know for a fact my client was not guilty. They had a lack of evidence and the testimony from the witnesses proved my client was not guilty."

Key wore a tie over his T-shirt, while his client had to be restrained in handcuffs during the duration of his murder trial.

Cassia Rockett, who was the District Attorney, said although she did not win the case, she enjoyed the competitiveness of the mock trial.

"I was disappointed that he wasn't found guilty," said Rockett,14. "The jury said there wasn't enough evidence, I don't agree. I still think [he] is lying."

The murder defendant was accused of killing his wife, following an argument about money.

"I didn't feel good about being questioned in the stand," said Samuel Rainer, 14, who portrayed the accused. "The [District Attorney] asked too many questions. I was telling the truth, but I felt shy about answering."

Sgt. Jimmie Spence, who coordinates the summer camps, summed up the experience of the youngsters: "You may have seen things one way, but someone else may have seen the same thing, and tell it a different way," said Spence. "But no one is lying."