Murder Self-Defense?

Students in Ms. Kisler’s class at Rim Country Middle School recently got a civics lesson on the judicial system. Resource Officer Michael Hansen played a key role and guided the students through a mock trial featuring witnesses, attorneys and the presentation of evidence.

Students in Ms. Kisler’s class at Rim Country Middle School recently got a civics lesson on the judicial system. Resource Officer Michael Hansen played a key role and guided the students through a mock trial featuring witnesses, attorneys and the presentation of evidence. Photo by Andy Towle. |

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RCMS mock trial.

I set out to get a quick shot of Rim Country Middle School Resource Officer Michael Hansen impressing students with his bullet-proof vest and air of authority — but these days you never know what you’ll find when you actually get inside a classroom.

In this case, Officer Hansen was playing a key role in a fascinating mock court exercise in Ms. Christy Kisler’s classroom. When I arrived, Officer Hansen was writing on the board and asking eighth-grade students for definitions for all the key players — the prosecutor, witness, bailiff, defendant and defense attorney.

As the class progressed, I found myself listening more and shooting less as Hansen offered a fascinating civics class in how the judicial system works, built around a hands-on courtroom drama. The session underscored the arguments many have made for providing campus security with a school resource officer, who can do far more than patrol the halls.

Officer Hansen helped the kids define the different roles of those involved in the simulated trial of Martha Monroe. She was on trial for murder after killing her husband. She claimed self-defense, based on the controversial “battered woman’s syndrome.” Each social studies class performed the trial this year with 190 students in seven different classes participating.

The students acted out their roles, gaining insight into how evidence and witnesses guided by attorney questions can influence a person on the jury.

Lawyers’ strategies, witness statements and physical evidence all presented tough choices for the student jury — not to mention practice in critical thinking. The case turned on the difference between murder and self-defense in a relationship dominated by the husband’s long history of physical abuse. The prosecutor argued that the defendant killed her husband in cold blood, when he wasn’t threatening her. The defense argued that he had repeatedly beaten her brutally, frustrated her attempts to escape and so terrified and threatened her that she acted in self-defense.

Ultimately, the jury deadlocked 3 to 8 for acquittal. But the deliberations helped the students understand how often emotion interferes with the objective weighing of the evidence.

Once again I was fooled by the initial description of an assignment. I love that about my job. Every assignment offers some surprise — kind of like the energy and enthusiasm of a classroom full of kids.

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