But it wasn't the defendant they had to judge. It was high school students from Notre Dame, Sciotoville Community, South Webster, Valley, Portsmouth West, Wheelersburg, Portsmouth and St. Joseph in Ironton in the 2006 Mock Trial Competition.
Students around the area competed both at the Scioto County Courthouse and the Portsmouth City Building. In every trial, an outstanding witness and an outstanding attorney were chosen. Twelve trials were organized throughout the day.
Screams and cheers filled the courthouse lobby when John Smith, with the South Central Educational Service Center, announced the winners. Smith has been organizing the competition for the past 20 years.
“It's a fairy tale come true,” said Michael Phipps of PHS.
Despite some problems the team at PHS had, he said, Jamie Keating and Becky Duncan, advisers, stepped up and helped them get through it.
“We just started three weeks ago and pushed this on our advisers,” said Julie Storts of PHS. “We didn't even get our legal advisers until Sunday, so we've only been working with them for a few days.”
Marlita Cadogan was a witness for the prosecution and received an outstanding witness award.
“I'm speechless,” she said. “We started really late and our first adviser quit on us, so Rusty and Maggie Miller were our legal advisers this week. This is just so surreal, it's awesome.”
Elizabeth Hardin is in her second year participating in the event with PHS.
“We've had some complications,” she said. “One of our witnesses a couple of days ago had to drop out.”
But despite all the difficulties, the team came through to be the winners and will go on to state competition next month.
Wheelersburg High School's Orange team was runner-up in the competition.
The case presented to the students involved a defendant named Terry Bale, who was already found guilty of aggravated robbery. He filed a motion to remove the death penalty as a sentencing option, alleging that because he had been diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic, his execution would constitute “cruel and unusual punishment” under the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
The issue the students brought before the judicial panel of local judges and attorneys was whether the jury should be allowed to consider the death sentence for the defendant.
From the district competition, the top 48 teams across the state will now meet for state finals in Columbus from March 9-11.
The Ohio Center for Law-Related Education is sponsored by the Supreme Court of Ohio, the Ohio State Bar Association, the American Civil Liberties Union of the Ohio Foundation and the Ohio Attorney General's Office.
The Ohio Mock Trial program is made possible in part, by a grant from the Ohio State Bar Foundation.
PHYLLIS NOAH can be reached at (740) 353-3101, ext. 234, or email@example.com.