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Law Day event shows legal system in action

May 03, 2003

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

It was a very grand jury - some 200 area students - that was badly split on whether Wendy Wettles was guilty or innocent of the charge of bringing a weapon onto school property.

Normally a verdict must be unanimous, but the fate of Wettles did not hang in the balance because she was only a character in the annual Law Day mock trial at the Franklin County Courthouse.

To juror Kelli Alloway, there was no doubt Wettles was not guilty when she was found to have a knife in her book bag.

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"I didn't think there was enough evidence," Alloway said. "It seemed like it was more a tool."

"I felt she wasn't using it as a weapon," said juror Sheri Mower. "Schools have stuff that could be used as weapons anyway."

Juror Joshua Sutton went a different way, believing Wettles guilty because she brought the knife to school without specific permission from school officials.

"I believe the art teacher should have talked to the principal," Sutton said.

Each year the county bar association puts on the very tongue-in-cheek trial to educate students like Alloway and Mower, both seniors at Chambersburg Area Senior High School, and Sutton, a student at Waynesboro Area Middle School, in the basics of the American legal system.

The defendant Wettles was attorney Laura Kerstetter and all other members of the cast were also members of the bar. The star witness was probably attorney Jeff Evans as police officer Bernard P. Fife.

"I was on routine patrol in the art district...when I came upon a commotion," Evans said while testifying in character. "I yelled for everyone to freeze."

The scenario this year involved the discovery of the knife when it fell out of Wettle's bookbag in a hallway collision with Hardknock High School Principal Eugene P. Farkas, played by David Yoder.

The students heard a condensed version of a jury trial complete with opening statements, conflicting evidence from witnesses, closing arguments by the prosecution and defense and jury instructions by Judge Douglas W. Herman.

In the end, by a slim margin, they decided Wettles was not guilty because she intended to use the knife in an art class demonstration of her whittling ability.

While the plot was a bit fanciful, Evans told the students the intent was to "celebrate the role law plays in American society and life."

Established by a proclamation of Congress, the first Law Day was held in 1961 and a counterpoint to the May Day parades held in communist and socialist countries during the Cold War, according to Bar Association President Philip S. Cosentino.

The May parades of tanks and missiles through Red Square have "been relegated to history, but our tradition of Law Day grows stronger."

"If there's anywhere you can feel and hear the heartbeat of freedom it's right here," he said of the courtroom.

"In this place criminal defendants have been escorted in handcuffs...and left in the arms of their loved ones," Cosentino said. He added that others "have even been sentenced to death in this courtroom."

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