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Mock murder trial in DeKalb courthouse challenges students

SYCAMORE – A murder trial held at the DeKalb County Courthouse was no easy assignment for the handful of students involved.

Parents, teachers and jurors watched quietly as students from Classical Conversations cross-examined each other about a wife accused of killing her abusive husband.

It was, however, only a mock trial. Nevertheless, the students asked hard questions from witnesses, called on testimony from experts and raised objections to the judge.

Jeffrey Lewis, who played the judge in one of two mock trials held Wednesday, said the students were professional and showed a level of stress real attorneys would show during a trial.

Lewis is an attorney for Klein, Stoddard, Buck and Lewis of Sycamore.

“You could tell these guys were polished,” Lewis said.

Classical Conversations is a nationwide program that focuses on combining classical educational methods such as verbal instruction with a Christian perspective.

The program serves home-schooled students and families. Students who belong to the program are grouped into “challenges” instead of grades.

The Challenge B Classical Conversation mock trial team comprises teenagers from Wisconsin, Rockford, Bloomington and Minooka. They took turns playing the prosecution and defense for the trial of Barbara Barrett, a woman who allegedly shot and killed her husband.

Rockford student Jacob Vrolyk said his team prepared for the trial by studying witness statements, confessions and exploring ways to raise objections. He thought the competition helped him build speech and debating skills, while also learning more about the law.

“We’re getting a really great understanding of how our legal system works,” Vrolyk said.

Deb Warning, Minooka licensed director for Classical Conversations, said the mock trial is evaluated by jurors and a judge. The jurors award points to the students for asking good questions, obeying court procedure and being flexible with the demands of making their case to the court. The judge gives the verdict, she said.

The Rockford team won against the Wisconsin team after the first session of the competition.

Each team took a turn acting as prosecutors while the other team was serving as defense attorneys. The judge found Barbara Barrett not guilty in both rounds, but the jurors awarded the most points to the Rockford team.

The mock trial wasn’t meant to be a competition where students win a prize, Warning said.

“It’s more about learning than getting a trophy,” Warning said.

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