Thursday, April 26, 2018- The School of Arts & Sciences Criminal Justice Program presented a Mock Trial following up their Mock Crime Scene Investigation held every semester. I had the opportunity to join Dr. David Byrne and the CRJ 201 Criminalistics students as they presented their evidence and analysis to jurors comprised of fellow students, Dr. David Byrne, Professor Philip Katz, and former Prosecutor Thomas Kapp.
White TeamBeing based off the Mock Crime Scene Investigation held prior, the Mock Trial showcased five teams (Grey, Black, Green, White, and Red) presenting five different crime scenes. Taking the stage first, the White team- composed of Ashely, Breze, Karina, Jennifer, and Gabriela- kicked off the Mock Trail. Their case being the rape and murder of Lisa Smyles in which there was substantial evidence to pin a local man, Richard Passatto to the crime. The group presented finger print analysis that was taken from all over the crime scene that matched the suspects; knives were also found in the suspect’s car, which contained dried blood on it that matched the blood type of the victim. After all of the evidence was displayed, the jurors proceeded to ask questions before leaving the room to deliberate the verdict.
In the end, the White team was successful in convincing the jury as they found the suspect, Richard Passatto, guilty; though not every team had the same outcome. In the case of the Red and Black team, each had a suspect found not guilty by the jury. The Red team- William Brown, Johanna Canadas, John McCaffrey, Marquise Brown, and Brenden Rogers- presented the case of the murder of Elizabeth Sanchez depicting the primary suspect to be her fiancé Nolan Heinz. The jury found that the Red team relied too heavily on hearsay- witness statements- rather than physical evidence leading to their decision of not guilty. Although the Red team did not sway the jury, they still presented a strong detailed explanation of what may have occurred.
Black TeamThe Black team- Emily Parker, Jessica Anderson, Ashlei Watson, Cooper Klosowski, and Steven Illicete – found themselves in a similar situation in which one suspect was found not guilty; their case being the murder of Kevin Clarke. They described two suspects, Rocco “Barney” Bulgar and Steven “Madman” Gruppo, who were both present at the crime scene. As a team, they concluded that Gruppo was guilty since his fingerprints were found on the murder weapon, while Bulgar was merely an accessory to the crime as his fingerprints were found on the victim’s wallet and traces of the victim’s blood were found on his shoes and tracksuit. After jury deliberation, the jury found Steven Gruppo guilty of murder and Rocco Bulger not guilty as it was difficult to show that he had worked with Steven to commit the crime.
Overall, each team gave strong presentations regardless of the outcome. The teams demonstrated strong public speaking skills as well as the knowledge they’ve gained from the class. Thomas Kapp stated that “it is a highly worthwhile exercise and class for anyone contemplating a career in law enforcement”. Dr. Byrne can attest to this as he suggests that anyone looking into a career in law enforcement would benefit from the exercise and class. “It is important how to piece together the puzzle and react on the witness stand when called to testify,” Dr. Byrne states.
Professor Katz agrees that the exercise is beneficial as it provides insight of what happens behind the scenes before an actual trial. Teaching Criminal Procedure Law, Professor Katz recognizes not only the importance in procedures of arrest, force, and search and seizure, but also the knowledge of how to collect and analyze evidence that would be used in court. “The exercise allows the students to demonstrate the knowledge they gained in the field as a team” Professor Katz states, “as well as help them develop their persuasive reasoning as they convince the jury”.
Students aspiring to become police officers, lawyers, investigators, and forensic psychologists would very much benefit from the class; although they should be prepared for the exercise. Some advice from Dr. Byrne and Mr. Kapp would be to present all the evidence, spend more time showing the crime scene photos and take time to analyze everything. Whether faced with a presentation in class or a real life scenario, it’s important to not rush and to stay focused while following the procedure, especially the chain of custody. Students should also focus on showcasing the crime scene photos to the jury as the photos help the jury understand how the crime occurred.
Although those looking to go into law enforcement should not expect to get rich as Mr. Kapp states, “the advantages are that one comes away with incredible pride from serving the community, the great comraderies that develop when people share similar values and ideals and work together under often stressful situations, plus you are usually the most popular person at parties because of all the “war stories” you can tell”. It’s clear to see that a career in law enforcement is a noble career with incredible rewards of job satisfaction. Any student looking to go into this field should take part in this class and exercise as it will give them skills to use in the future. Students are also encouraged to explore internships with a forensic/crime unit or a law enforcement agency to determine if they like the fast pace environment.
The mock trial as well as the mock crime scene investigation is a worthwhile exercise for any student to experience. It allows for insight into the analysis and skills needed for the particular field. Both exercises are offered every semester and the department invites any and all students to attend! I am very grateful for having the opportunity to sit in and highly recommend everyone to take part! For any questions or for the best advice Dr. Byrne is always happy to answer!