Mock trial expands TAG students’ legal knowledge

Published 10:24 am Thursday, April 8, 2010

CHESAPEAKE — John Butler was 4 years old when he was taken from his home by Indians during a raid. For the past 11 years he has lived among the Delaware tribe, thinking of himself no longer as a white man.

Then a treaty between the Indians and settlers meant Butler, along with all white captives, were to be returned. However, Butler found it impossible to give up the Indian culture.

So when his uncle was scalped and almost died, Butler, who now calls himself True Son, was arrested and brought to trial on two charges: aggravated assault and attempted murder.

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That is the scenario of the novel “Light in the Forest” by Conrad Richter and was the basis for the mock trial the talented and gifted students at Chesapeake Middle School put on Wednesday at Lawrence County Municipal Court.

Was the assault self-defense or the wanton act of a savage unable to conform to civilized society?

Answering those questions was the focus of the students’ work that as a sideline gave them a deeper look at the American justice system with some other academic pluses.

“They learned a lot of writing skills,” Terry Montgomery, TAG teacher, said. “How to ask the correct question to get the correct answer. How to tell a story in a few words and they learned about the legal system in our country and the rights of our citizens.”

Participating in the trial was Caitlin Theisen as prosecutor who presented the contention of the “state” that Butler was a wild savage.

“He couldn’t make the adjustment back,” Theisen said. “You must find him guilty to save our civilization.”

However defense attorneys Logan McCloud and Mikayla Hannahs pushed the argument that his uncle murdered Indians at will and Butler acted in self-defense.

“He was just a target of that awful man,” Hannahs said. “Hasn’t he suffered enough?”

Following closely the form of an actual courtroom, the students offered opening and closing statements, direct and cross examinations and procedurally correct objections. Presiding over the mock event was Randy Wood, a retired Lawrence Municipal Court probation officer and court administrator.

“This is a great thing, a learning experience,” Wood told the courtroom before the proceedings started. “Every kid should do this. We will try to keep it as real as possible.”

Logan as second chair defense counsel found he expanded his concept of what courtroom drama actually is.

“I learned the court is very organized and it makes me nervous, being in front of all the people,” he said.

Playing the Indian guide who could translate the Delaware language was Ben Myers who admits he has considered the law as a future profession.

“(The law) is very detailed. It is very complicated,” he said.

Rounding out the cast were prosecution witnesses Holli Arthur and Eli Johnson as the victim; Shayne Lindsey as John Butler; and defense witnesses, Kara Bennett and Savannah Newton.

Jurors were members of the community who ended up giving the students a mixed verdict. Butler was guilty on aggravated assault but not guilty on the attempted murder charge.