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  • Bringing Justice to Farmingdale with a Mock Trial

    By Hillary Garcia

    From investigating the crime scene to analyzing the evidence, Dr. David Byrne’s Criminalistics students prepared to present their case to a jury. Having the unique opportunity to use their knowledge from class, the criminalistics students were given the tools they needed to convince a jury that their suspect was guilty. Being split up into three teams, each had their own suspect to convict. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to attend the follow up mock trial. Seeing each group present their findings proved their skills taught from class.

    Before starting the trial, I had a chance to speak with Dr. Byrne to gain a better understanding on his expectations. Dr. Byrne stated that he had full faith in his students and their abilities. As seen through their initial investigation they each have the foundation to build a solid case with strong analysis. In order to defend their case further, Dr. Byrne’s required that the jury asks at least 3 questions for each group. This is to not only for the jury to gain a better understanding, but also to aid in the group’s public speaking skills. As always each group needs to be able to defend their case regardless of the questions asked.

    Kicking off the trial, the Blue team presented the case of Elizabeth Sanchez. Sanchez, was a young model who was murdered in her apartment; the main suspect being her fiancé, Nolan Heinz. Each member explained the crime thoroughly, giving a clear image of what may have taken place. In their initial report they made a strong case incriminating Heinz. Doubt only became apparent as soon as the jury began asking questions. As Dr. Byrne had stated each group must be able to defend their case when questioned. The Blue team held their stance, each taking the questions as they came, but the idea it may have been someone else stuck in the jury’s mind. Evidently, the jury found the suspect not guilty. Speaking with the Blue team after, they did stand by their information, but realized they missed evidence that could have helped erase any doubt.

    Following up the Blue team, the next group to take the stand was the Grey team and their case of Lisa Smyles. Lisa Smyle, was found murdered in her apartment with multiple injuries from a sharp object. Their main suspect was, Richard Passatto, a local man known for spying on young women giving him the nickname “The Watcher”. The Grey team had enough evidence with fingerprints, footprints, and witness accounts placing Passatto at the scene of the crime. From what it seemed they had a strong case to convict Passatto as guilty. Speaking with the team during the jury’s deliberation, each member was confident in their presentation. They provided more than enough evidence that placed Passatto at the scene of the crime and a motive for it. They mentioned their confidence stems from the skills they learned and their ability to not be backed up when confronted with questions. Heading back in for the final verdict, it came to a surprise when the jury found the suspect not guilty. The group having mentioned a possible second person at the apartment, with unidentified prints found on a bottle led the jury to believe it may have been that person who committed the crime.

    Ending off the trial, was the Black team and their case of Kevin “Ace” Clarke. Clarke was a professional poker player who often hosted parties in his apartment. After hearing a gunshot, Clarke was found dead of what appeared to be a suicide, but further investigation proved otherwise. The Black team first proved that it was not a suicide by the position he was in when he was found. The note left behind wasn’t convincing either, specifically stating to police that he killed himself and to not investigate. Determining it to be murder, the Black team then found their primary suspect to be, Rocky “Barney” Bulger. Bulger was arrested an hour later only to find the notepad used to write the note in his car along with texts implicating him heading to Clarke’s home with mal intentions. Although not having certain tests results due to the forensics lab, they made a strong case against Bulger placing him at the scene of the crime. By illustrating this picture to the jury, the Black team was successful in convicting their suspect. Speaking with them it was clear they knew that motive only goes so far and placing the suspect at the scene of the crime would get them the conviction they needed.

    Each team was well-prepared for the activity presented to them and have walked away with a much greater understanding of the skills taught to them. Dr. Byrne’s has once again shown that the hands-on experience allows for greater retention in his students. Anyone looking to go pursue a career in the criminal justice field has a lot to gain from this class. It’s important to learn the background of an investigation as many of these skills are used later in the field. So for those to taking this course in the coming semesters, a little hint from Dr. Byrne’s is to look at the details and be confident in what you’re presenting.