BOTHELL — Nervous attorneys. Theatrical witnesses. A very chill bailiff.
The scene that played out on Jan. 24 inside Bothell Municipal Court wasn’t a real trial. It was fictitious, with the roles played by students from North Creek High School.
The mock trial was the culmination of the intro to law class, where students learn about the criminal justice system. First offered last year, when the new school began operations, the class was the brainchild of teacher Casey Kellogg, assistant principal Sharyn Mehner and Bothell Municipal Court Judge Michelle Gehlsen.
Kellogg said the class offered students an opportunity to gain practical knowledge and think about alternative career paths. The list of guest speakers was exhaustive, including detectives, attorneys, judges, federal agents and a criminal psychologist.
“One of the greatest things is students are walking away with empathy for the men and women doing these jobs,” Kellogg said.
By the time he assigned the final case, Kellogg said he could step aside and watch the wheels of justice at work. Students selected their roles, studied affidavits, memorized facts and practiced oral arguments.
“You never know what to expect,” he said.
Two classes were pitted against each other for the mock trial, first period and fourth period. Whoever won would get bragging rights, Kellogg said. It’s a tie if it ends up a hung jury.
The case before them was grim. A teenage girl died. Was it a rock climbing accident, or was she murdered by the student she ratted out for cheating on a test?
That’s a question that the jury, made up of definitely impartial parents, had to answer. And it was up to students to convince them one way or the other.
When trial time arrived, the courtroom was overflowing with spectators. The hearing was often punctuated with applause and laughter, and attorneys anxiously read from papers they held in their hands. Sometimes, Judge Gehlsen would pooh-pooh the audience for too much chatter.
The first witness was there the night the girl died, she said, and the way the suspect was pushing and shoving and yelling at the victim was unsettling.
She suspected something fishy. But she didn’t see what happened next. She said she was scared, so she left.
A medical examiner seemingly bolstered the case: Based on the blunt force trauma to the victim’s head, she was definitely murdered. The girl didn’t fall; someone hit her with a rock.
Then the suspect, played by Satvika Ganta, took the stand. She fake cried while giving her testimony. She said she was upset that she was caught cheating, because her family puts a lot of academic stress on her. But, she said, she didn’t murder anybody.
In the end, the jury believed her.