Exchange students participate in mock trial at courthouse

GAZETTE PHOTOS / Theresa Davis

Clerk of District Court Ken Roberts and local CIEE coordinator Lisa Parkinson pose with the exchange students after they conducted a mock trial in the county courthouse on Friday, Feb. 8. The students hail from all over the world and are attending a year of high school in southwest Wyoming.

Exchange students who are attending a year of high school in southwest Wyoming took a crash course in the American justice system when they conducted a mock trial at the Lincoln County Courthouse in Kemmerer on Friday, Feb. 8.

The students, who hail from Pakistan, Thailand, Mali, Germany, Italy, Spain, Egypt, Serbia and Kyrgyzstan, are part of the CIEE (Council on International Educational Exchange) program. 

Clerk of District Court Ken Roberts taught the students about the unique features of the American judicial system, and gave them an opportunity to explain how justice works in their home countries. The mock trial has been a tradition for eight years.

The students chose to act out a murder trial. Three exchange students who are studying at Kemmerer High School played starring roles in the mock trial.

Dilsad Kalasch, a student from Germany, played the defendant. Hajira Naveed from Pakistan played the defense attorney. Omar El-Said, who is from Egypt, and is another exchange student at KHS, played the police detective who had investigated the case and arrested the defendant. 

Other exchange students filled the roles of judge, prosecuting attorney, witnesses and jury members.

Kemmerer High School exchange students Hajira Naveed and Dilsad Kalasch play the defense attorney and defendant in a mock trial with other area exchange students at the Lincoln County courthouse on Feb. 8.

The students displayed great imagination as they went further into the details of the fictional murder case.

Roberts coached them on their different roles and how a trial should progress. Roberts also explained what makes the American justice system different from that of some of the students’ home countries. 

“A jury of one’s peers makes the U.S. unique,” Roberts said. “The founding fathers didn’t want a judge, jury and executioner all in one.”

The students also learned about the different rights and privileges of a defendant, who is innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

As the attorneys questioned witnesses and the case unfolded, Roberts explained that much of the work in a trial happens outside the courtroom.

“Lawyers don’t ask questions of witnesses that they don’t already know the answer to,” Roberts said.

After a few minutes of deliberation at the conclusion of the mock trial, the jury returned to the courtroom and announced that they were not unanimous and hadn’t reached a verdict.

“I hope this gave you a little glimpse into the American justice system,” Roberts said.

Kemmerer exchange student Omar El-Said is questioned as a witness in the students' mock trial in the Lincoln County Courthouse on Feb. 8. 

Jordan Dorritt works for the CIEE (Council On International Educational Exchange) in its East Coast office.

“These students are dedicated and motivated,” Dorritt said. “They applied for scholarships and work hard studying in a language that may not be their first. They do a fantastic job of representing their country.”

Alfonso Garcia-Rojo is from Spain and is attending Evanston High School as part of the exchange program. He will play soccer for Evanston.

Fatoumata Sangare is from Mali and is attending Rock Springs High School. She will run track at Rock Springs.

They both agreed that the experience as an exchange student, especially in Wyoming, is full of surprises.

“I went to a demolition derby,” Garcia-Rojo said. “It was fun, but so different.”

“People are surprised that I’ve never seen snow,” Sangare said. “The weather here is way different from back home.”

When asked why they would recommend studying in America to their friends, the students said they were thankful for their time in the Cowboy State. 

“It’s a huge experience,” Garcia-Rojo said. “It’s a whole year of something completely different than you’re used to. You learn to be open-minded, and teach other people to do that, too.”

“You learn a lot, meet new people and it’s something you’ll never forget,” Sangare said.

Locals interested in hosting exchange students as part of the CIEE program should contact Lisa Parkinson.