NORTH ADAMS -- Sullivan Elementary School seventh-graders Syrena Nielsen, 12, and Anthony Corbosiero, 13, were angered by the "not guilty" verdict handed down Monday afternoon in the mock case they had worked hard to prosecute.
"I think he should have been found guilty," Anthony said, following the verdict. "We established a motive. We had a print on the murder weapon."
Syrena added, "We placed him at the scene -- we even had a bloody footprint that matched."
But the evidence wasn't enough to convince one member of the six-man jury assembled for three mock trials held in the afterschool forensic science program taught by science teacher James Holmes and teaching assistant Sheri Little.
In each of the three trials, students from the afterschool class, which meets once a week, presented evidence against one of three suspects.
In the murder trial, Louis Geoffrion, the owner of the fictional Stinky Cow, a steak and cabbage restaurant, was accused of killing Holmes, who had recently drawn up a will that left Geoffrion $1 million.
Among the evidence was a bloody knife from the fictional steak house, on which a latent print from Geoffrion was found; a bloody footprint; and other evidence linking the accused to the scene of the crime.
"I was a little skeptical of the knife," Ellen Sutherland, assistant to the superintendent, explained to the class. "It came from his steak house, so I couldn't be sure that his print wasn't on it because it came from there. I wasn't convinced beyond a reasonable doubt."
She added, "I also wanted them to see what would happen if at least one person didn't agree."
Berkshire County Assistant District Attorney Greg Bartlett, who was playing the part of the judge, explained to the students the reason why Geoffrion would be found "not guilty."
"It's believed that it's more important for a guilty person to go home than for an innocent person to go to jail," he said. "Without a unanimous decision, the individual is considered not guilty. It's the burden of the Commonwealth to prove that the person is guilty, beyond a reasonable doubt."
Sixth-grader Serena East wood, 12, also thought Geoffrion's verdict was unfair and also was surprised that at least one of the other two trials hadn't had a similar hung jury.
"We didn't have much evidence connecting Ms. [Ashley] LaFrance to the theft of the microscopes," she said of a previous trial.
Anthony added, "The microscopes were never in her possession. Mr. [Robert] Malloy admitted to carrying them for her."
Monday's mock trial was just one of the program's highlights this term, according to Holmes. Other afternoons have included classes on accident reconstruction, cell phone and Internet crime, search and rescue, arson and a visit from a K-9 officer and dog team.
"While we do all of this, we also cover the state curriculum frameworks," he said. "We do a lot of writing and a lot of math. We learn about symmetry with fingerprints. We did some extensive mapping with search and rescue."
Holmes said the class wouldn't be as successful without the aid of the North Adams Police Department, which regularly has officers volunteer to lead the classes.
"I just think this program is very innovative," Mayor Richard J. Alcombright, a member of the jury, said. "Not only does it follow the state frameworks, but it also gets kids thinking about different career paths."
Other members of the mock jury included Dean of Students John Franzoni, North Adams Police Director Michael Cozzaglio, Jerry Mullen and Peter Morin.
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