While accused criminals faced a judge Wednesday in the main courtroom of Attleboro District Court, local high school students conducted a mock trial dealing with murder and domestic strife in an upstairs courtroom.
The students, all sophomores in teacher Tobey Reed’s criminal justice class at Attleboro High School, resembled lawyers doing the real thing downstairs. They grilled witnesses, who stumbled over some of their answers, and there were rapid fire cross-examinations.
The case concerned a man accused of strangling his ex-wife with a rope in her bedroom in order to get $4 million in life insurance money. A young daughter was left motherless by the crime.
Pretty cruel stuff was aired during testimony.
Witnesses testified about jealousy, rage, creepy neighbors, troubled marriages, cheating spouses and tenacious private investigators. There was DNA, fingerprints and lies.
The defendant, Roger Hammond, played by Brendan Raymond, had an alibi and took the witness stand in his own defense.
His lawyers hammered away at what they described as a shoddy police investigation and a rush to judgment. Many others had a motive for killing his ex-wife, they pointed out.
“Roger had no motive to kill the woman he loved or ruin his daughter’s life,” defense lawyer Anthony Maragnano, 16, said during his closing argument.
The prosecution, however, focused on that $4 million payday, life insurance that was taken out shortly before the murder.
“Roger is a danger. Roger is selfish. Roger is a murderer,” prosecutor Nate Blazek, 15, told the judge during his closing.
The judge, played by Assistant District Attorney Natasha Azevedo, found the defendant guilty.
“Everybody did a great job. Everybody seemed well prepared. I commend all of you,” she told the student lawyers.
The students worked on preparing for the trial with Azevedo, Attleboro lawyers Colleen McGahan and Peter Shore and retired superior court judge Robert Kane.
Some of the students want to pursue a legal career.
“I think a lot of people are unfairly accused of things without representation. I think I could help people,” said Emma Boss, 16, who is thinking about becoming a defense attorney.
Amber Masse, 16, want to be one, too.
“I like helping people, to be really honest,” Masse said, adding that she knows people who could have used a good attorney on their side.
Masse said she has been inspired by Stoughton defense lawyer Julie Gaudreau, who has been involved in helping the students prepare for mock trials. She also likes watching lawyers in television dramas. “I really love ‘Law & Order.’ That show is so good,” Masse said.