Exchange students who are attending a year of high school in schools all over southwest Wyoming held a mock trial at the Lincoln County Courthouse in Kemmerer on Friday, March 2, under the direction of Judge Joseph Bluemel. (GAZETTE PHOTO / Theresa Davis)
Third Judicial District Court Judge Joseph Bluemel hosted exchange students attending school in southwest Wyoming for a mock trial at the Lincoln County Courthouse in Kemmerer on Friday, March 2.
The diverse group of students hailed from Vietnam, Thailand, Spain, Mongolia, Brazil, Slovakia, Tajikistan, China, Indonesia, India, Kyrgyzstan, Armenia and Ukraine.
These exchange students are attending a year of high school in Kemmerer, Evanston, Big Piney, Pinedale, Rock Springs, Lyman and Mountain View.
Judge Bluemel explained to the students how the American judicial system is similar or different from the process in their home countries.
The students decided to do a mock trial for attempted murder, and each student played a role: police chief, witnesses, defendant, prosecuting attorney, defense attorney or a member of the jury.
Judge Bluemel told the group about the defendant’s rights and that he was presumed innocent until found guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Kemmerer High School student Oscar Zhang, who is from China, was the prosecuting attorney for the mock trial.
Judge Bluemel reminded Zhang of his task to prove to the jury that the defendant committed the crime.
The students had fun creating a trial with all the drama of a “Law and Order” episode. The defendant and witnesses took the stand to recount the events surrounding the attempted murder, which was a shooting that took place at a supermarket and was potentially motivated by thwarted love. Jack, an exchange student from Tajikistan, played the defendant.
Bluemel praised the students serving as mock attorneys for asking good questions that could get to the truth and ensure a just verdict.
Zhang was successful in poking holes in the defense’s arguments and testimony, and the jury ultimately agreed on a guilty verdict for the defendant.
Kemmerer students Alvaro de Vicente and Terry Uranbold, who are from Spain and Mongolia, served on the mock jury. Clerk of District Court Ken Roberts swore in the jury, who agreed to be fair and unbiased in their deliberations.
District Court Clerk Ken Roberts swears in the mock trial jury of exchange students on Friday, March 2, at the Lincoln County Courthouse. (GAZETTE PHOTO / Theresa Davis)
Uranbold had taken meticulous notes during the cross examination, and pointed out the inconsistencies in the defendant’s testimony as what ultimately convinced him of the defendant’s guilt.
“So what do you think of our system?” Judge Bluemel asked the students after the mock trial. “Would you rather have a jury of your peers or a judge decide your fate?”
“A jury is good because it’s not just one person who listens and decides,” Kemmerer student Alvaro de Vicente said.
Another student asked the judge how the judicial system ensures that jurors aren’t being bribed to reach a certain verdict, and Judge Bluemel explained the extensive jury vetting process that attempts to eliminate bias or injustice before the trial even begins.
“No system is perfect,” Judge Bluemel said. “But we try our best to seek justice and truth, so even people who have a lot of money or power can still end up in prison.”
One of the students asked Judge Bluemel what he personally thinks of defendants when they come into his courtroom accused of crimes.
“They are still innocent until proven guilty,” Judge Bluemel said. “I come in with an open mind and see what the evidence shows.”
Judge Bluemel told the students what it takes to become a lawyer and a judge in America.
At the close of the trial, Zhang asked Judge Bluemel if he would bang the gavel just for fun, and Bluemel complied.
Kemmerer High School student Oscar Zhang, who is from China, acts as the prosecuting attorney at the mock trial. (GAZETTE PHOTO / Theresa Davis)
The mock trial was part of a weekend of activities in Kemmerer for the exchange students. On Friday night, the students had dinner together and played games at the Best Western Fossil Country Inn and Suites. On Saturday, March 3, the exchange students visited the South Lincoln Nursing Center to visit with the residents there.
Kemmerer resident Lisa Parkinson works with the Council on International Educational Exchange (CIEE) organization. She coordinated the weekend and also is responsible for connecting exchange students to host families in southwest Wyoming.
“I’ve been doing this for about 10 years,” Parkinson told the Gazette. “I learn a lot from these students. We are already looking for host families for the fall, so anyone interested in being a host family should definitely reach out.”
Mock trial defendants Jack and D-Nee, from Tajikistan and Indonesia, plan what questions the defense attorney will ask in the cross-examination of the witness at the exchange student mock trial with Judge Joseph Bluemel on Friday, March 2.
Max, an exchange student from Vietnam, acts as a witness during the mock trial. (GAZETTE PHOTO / Theresa Davis)