This story originally published in the Peninsula Clarion.
Senior students from Nikiski High School’s American government class spent Wednesday and Thursday afternoon performing mock murder trials at the Kenai Courthouse.
With the help of local attorneys Peter Erhardt and Paul Morin, who acted as the judges during the mock trial, the students filled the roles of the jury, prosecution, defense, witnesses and the accused.
Joe Rizzo, Nikiski High’s government teacher, said Thursday’s case was a murder trial about a woman who had serious gambling issues, got involved with organized crime and was eventually murdered.
“Her business partner is the one being accused of the crime,” Rizzo said.
He said Wednesday’s mock trial was a manslaughter case with a focus on texting and driving.
The cases were designed by law students in Oregon as mock trial events for high school students.
This is the second year Rizzo had his student perform mock trials.
“Last year went really, really well,” Rizzo said. “We only did one day here in the Kenai Court. I ran four trials, which was too many. It took too much class time. So, we have it down to two trials and that seems to be perfect.”
At Thursday’s mock trial, students Hannah Young and Gabriel Smith played prosecutors. After the trial, Young said the event went all right, and not how she expected.
“It was very difficult due to the limited amount of time we had to prepare,” Young said.
Smith also said the exercise was difficult.
“It was difficult, but not more difficult than I expected,” Smith said. “Overall, I had a ton of fun and learned a lot.”
Emma Wik and Kelsey Clark were the defense attorneys for the exercise. They both said they learned a lot during and preparing for the trial.
“It went really good,” Wik said. “I was really nervous for it but it was fun. It was cool to be an attorney and to learn the problems they have to go through and to figure it out. It was cool to talk to an actual attorney and see what it was like to be one.”
With the help of Rizzo, students got to choose what role they would play in the mock trial.
“I’ve taught at Nikiski High School for 20 years, and I’ve known most of these kids since they were in elementary school,” Rizzo said. “I have a pretty good idea of who would make a good attorney. If I have a kid who said they want to be on the jury, but I know they could do the job of an attorney, I say ‘you know what, maybe this would be a better fit for you.’”
He said the mock trial is a great learning experience for the students.
“It’s much better than me standing in the auditorium lecturing about how our court system works,” Rizzo said. “They can just come and experience it.”
In the next couple class periods, the mock jury will deliberate at school and reach a verdict for the two mock trials.