Mock trial brings law to life
Spencer Westling answers questions from the defense while the jury listens. The jurors are, from left: front row, Lenin Arriaga, 15, Cody Rotsolk, 16, and Ulises Gutierrez, 17; back row, Trevan Forrest, 17, Luke Rhodes, 17, and Joan Mae Rodriguez, 16. (Mark Ylen/Democrat-Herald)

The prosecution was adamant: Pat Haines’ paranoia and trigger-happy recklessness led him to gun down an unarmed man.

“The phrase, ‘Shoot first and ask questions later’ actually fits this case pretty well,” said Spencer Westling, 17, speaking for the state of Oregon. “Today, you can put this man behind bars.”

The defense was just as firm: Haines had every reason to fear the man on his doorstep, given his size, his threats and his prowess with the hunting knife he always carried. When he shot, he was acting in self-defense.

“Pat was in a situation where it was either kill or be killed,” Flavio Lopez, 17, told the six-member jury. “He only had a split second to make a decision.”

Albany Options School students in Mark Wolfe’s “Street Law” class spent Thursday in the Linn County Courthouse, working on a fictional case built for high school mock trial competitions through the Classroom Law Project.

They took apart “State of Oregon v. Haines,” a criminal case of second-degree manslaughter. Haines, a homeowner looking to get work done on his basement, hires a rough-looking man whom he later suspects of stealing from him. During an angry confrontation, Haines shoots the worker.

Wolfe, a former lawyer, acted as the judge. Seven students took turns playing attorneys and witnesses and another six served on the jury.

Mock trials serve several purposes, Wolfe said. Students have to think critically and analytically to put the facts of the case together, then write and speak persuasively to get the jury on their side.

They also get to see a courtroom up close, Wolfe said, “and realize that the judicial system is not an abstract entity, but rather is a fundamental part of how our society resolves disputes.”

Chris Perez, 17, who played one of the defendant’s friends, said the toughest part was “Preparing yourself to actually go up there. My knees were really shaking.”

Lopez said he was surprised how hard everyone had to work. “All the paperwork and preparation for this — it takes a lot of time.”

A side benefit is learning how to serve on jury duty, said Principal Candy Baker. And, in fact, the jurors did just that: arguing among themselves so persuasively that in the end, they couldn’t decide and declared a hung jury.

Regardless of the outcome, both sides said they preferred acting out the case to simply reading about it.

Said Westling: “You’re more into it, and you just seem to care more about it.”

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