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updated: 5/2/2014 5:28 PM

Students hold 'hands-on' trials in Kane County

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  • Nicole Giese, left, from Bartlett High School, plays a witness while "defense attorney" Lia Kruse from Batavia High School cross-examines her during a mock trial Friday at the Kane County Courthouse in St. Charles. Judge Kathryn Karayannis presided. The Kane County Bar Foundation's Law Day Mock Trial Program featured students from Aurora Central Catholic, Bartlett High School, Batavia High School, Elgin Academy, St. Edward Central Catholic and West Aurora High School.

       Nicole Giese, left, from Bartlett High School, plays a witness while "defense attorney" Lia Kruse from Batavia High School cross-examines her during a mock trial Friday at the Kane County Courthouse in St. Charles. Judge Kathryn Karayannis presided. The Kane County Bar Foundation's Law Day Mock Trial Program featured students from Aurora Central Catholic, Bartlett High School, Batavia High School, Elgin Academy, St. Edward Central Catholic and West Aurora High School.
    Rick West | Staff Photographer

  • Bartlett's Andrew Eckelberry offers the prosecution's opening remarks during the Law Day Mock Trial Program Friday at the Kane County Courthouse in St. Charles.

       Bartlett's Andrew Eckelberry offers the prosecution's opening remarks during the Law Day Mock Trial Program Friday at the Kane County Courthouse in St. Charles.
    Rick West | Staff Photographer

  • Batavia's Eric Phillips looks back as the prosecution objects to a question he posed to a witness during the Law Day Mock Trial Program Friday at the Kane County Courthouse in St. Charles.

       Batavia's Eric Phillips looks back as the prosecution objects to a question he posed to a witness during the Law Day Mock Trial Program Friday at the Kane County Courthouse in St. Charles.
    Rick West | Staff Photographer

  • "Prosecutors" Jeremy Abbate and Fallon Sebestin of Bartlett watch testimony as students from six high schools participate in mock trials Friday at the Kane County Courthouse in St. Charles.

       "Prosecutors" Jeremy Abbate and Fallon Sebestin of Bartlett watch testimony as students from six high schools participate in mock trials Friday at the Kane County Courthouse in St. Charles.
    Rick West | Staff Photographer

  • "Prosecutor" Sean McCauley of Bartlett questions a witness as students from six high schools participate in mock trials Friday at the Kane County Courthouse in St. Charles.

       "Prosecutor" Sean McCauley of Bartlett questions a witness as students from six high schools participate in mock trials Friday at the Kane County Courthouse in St. Charles.
    Rick West | Staff Photographer

  • Batavia's Lia Kruse questions a witness as students from six high schools participate in mock trials Friday at the Kane County Courthouse in St. Charles.

       Batavia's Lia Kruse questions a witness as students from six high schools participate in mock trials Friday at the Kane County Courthouse in St. Charles.
    Rick West | Staff Photographer

 
 

After the jury left to deliberate Friday, Kane County Associate Judge Rene Cruz offered his assessment to prosecutors and defense attorneys.

"This is the part where, as much as you love doing trials, you're stressed out of your mind. This is the waiting game," said Cruz, a former Aurora defense attorney. "The most comfortable person is the judge. ... Imagine being the person accused."

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The jury returned a not-guilty verdict against a high school student accused of breaking into a school and stealing a clarinet and computer.

But even if the verdict was guilty, no one would have been sent to jail.

Friday's "trial" was the Kane County Bar Foundation's Law Day Mock Trial Program, featuring students from Aurora Central Catholic, Bartlett High School, Batavia High School, Elgin Academy, St. Edward Central Catholic and West Aurora High School who played roles of prosecutors, defense attorneys, witnesses and jurors.

Rules of the courtroom were relaxed, thus allowing the students to complete the evidence portion of a trial in about an hour.

While the jury deliberated, Cruz offered students some tips: Only object if a statement will hurt your case or to break up the "rhythm" of the other side, like a timeout in sports; sell your case to the jury; as a prosecutor, question the witness while standing near the jury box so the witness speaks toward the jury; and ask your favorable witnesses open-ended questions and adversarial witnesses "yes" or "no" questions.

Steve Hilsabeck, Elgin Academy history teacher, said the school has participated for seven or eight years.

"I'm always impressed by how poised the kids are. It's a little intimidating for them to be in an actual courtroom in front of an actual judge," Hilsabeck said. "We hope they come away with a better understanding of how the judicial system works."

Dewey Hollingsworth, an Aurora attorney and foundation board member, helped organize the trial day. He said the hypothetical case was first written up several years ago with the wild card being a witness, with a previous criminal record, who cut a deal to testify against the defendant in order to escape prosecution.

"It's a substantial amount of work and they learn immensely more than seeing a movie about trial or reading a book," Hollingsworth said.

Samantha Marino, a political science teacher at Aurora Central Catholic, said 18 seniors participated and did well as prosecutors even though they lost.

"This was a tough case," she said. "It's a very high threshold (of beyond a reasonable doubt) before you're going to put somebody behind bars. This is an act of learning. They actually participated here doing it."

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