By AMY WENGER Correspondent
---- — GOSHEN — On the morning of March 14, two buses filled with Wakarusa Elementary fifth graders drove away from the school and into a brilliant burst of sunshine. Their destination was the Elkhart County Courthouse.
This was a day for the students to learn about the workings of the American justice system and to discover what becomes of those who run afoul of the law.
The first stop of the day was a visit to Superior Court Judge Evan Roberts’ courtroom. The field trip concluded with a stop at the Elkhart County Jail on C.R. 26.
The students asked many thought-provoking questions, ranging from the difference between a felony and a misdemeanor to the criteria used to select a jury.
At the courthouse, several students were given the opportunity to participate in a mock trial, an event that has become something of an annual tradition for Wakarusa Elementary fifth graders. Those who are involved are chosen ahead of time, and are given prepared scripts to work from, to keep the proceedings as close as possible to the terminology used in an actual trial.
In this particular case, the mock defendant, Colin Glick, is accused of shoplifting a CD from the Target store in Goshen, just days before Christmas, having placed the CD in a shopping bag without paying for it upon leaving. Colin was represented by his attorney, classmate Olivia Bley, who set out to prove that Colin simply forgot to pay, having been distracted by the rush of last-minute Christmas shopping. Furthermore, Colin had cash on him, indicating that he indeed intended to pay for the item.
Meanwhile, the prosecution, led by student Claire Lingle, worked to refute the claim that the incident was a misunderstanding, and that Colin walked right past the cash register after he’d picked up the CD.
Mock witnesses were called to the stand — each sworn in by bailiff, classmate Logan Mast — who delivered testimony either in support or dispute of Colin’s case. Those witnesses included Target employee Amanda Foster, store customer Rebekah Wenger, and Colin’s friend Nathan Rulli.
After each side had presented closing arguments, the case was handed to the jury, which rapidly voted unanimously in support of Colin’s story. Members of the jury included Mariah Slabaugh, Derek Hochstedler, Kael Hooley, Abrianna Bontrager, Zuzu Gaut, Deshawn Lenoir, Ryan Blosser, Reese Barhydt, Cam Iwema, Alaina Anthony, Drew Bailey, Sydney King, Jacquelynn Miller, Sophie Odiorne, and Cole Reser.
While at the Elkhart County Jail, students viewed an orientation video on what inmates can expect during the duration of their sentence, and the strict guidelines and rules they must abide by. They also viewed equipment and several methods used to subdue prisoners who become physically violent or confrontational.
The appearance of Nitro, one of the facility’s canine officers, was a highlight. Nitro is trained to detect the presence of concealed drugs and contraband tobacco products. Nitro appeared equally excited to see the crowd, often jumping and frolicking at the front of the room, eliciting laughs from students and parents alike.