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Court comes to Panhandle

April 14, 2004|by CANDICE BOSELY

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.VA. - It began with a bailiff's cries of "Oh ye, oh ye, oh ye" and "God save the state of West Virginia and this honorable court" and ended with students from local high schools getting a first-hand look at West Virginia's Supreme Court justices at work.

Justices Elliott Maynard, Larry Starcher, Warren McGraw and Joseph Albright, of the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia, listened to arguments in four cases Tuesday in Martinsburg's main courthouse. High school and college students listened during the annual LAWS project.

LAWS is an acronym for Legal Advancement for West Virginia Students.

The cases dealt with a $25 robbery, a double murder, a lawsuit centering on a man killed while working, and a juvenile's habitual truancy. After hearing both sides of one of the cases, students had a chance to meet with the attorneys and ask questions.

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Students from Musselman and Hedgesville high schools listened to the arguments in the double murder case. The McDowell County case dealt with two people who were fatally shot in their mobile home in April 2001. The couple's 6-year-old daughter escaped injury because the shooter's gun jammed, Chief Justice Maynard said in a synopsis.

James Reginald Jones II, the defendant, was present during the shootings but did not pull the trigger. He is appealing his second-degree murder convictions on the grounds he was questioned by police without an attorney present, even after asking for his lawyer. He has been sentenced to serve two 40-year prison terms, said Jones' attorney, Gloria M. Stephens.

Jones was 16 years old when the shootings happened, Stephens said. She said that after her client took a lie detector test, he asked that his attorney be allowed to re-enter the room. Stephens said that she had left, but gave police her phone number. She was not called and police continued to question Jones, she said.

The justices will review the case. During an earlier hearing, they said they hope to issue their opinions before the school year is finished, so students can continue their discussions.

During a question-and-answer session afterward in a separate meeting room, students asked about lie detector tests. One asked whether they are admissible in court.

No, answered Jon Blevins, an assistant attorney general in Charleston, W.Va.

Another student asked why the tests are given if they cannot be used in court.

Blevins said police frequently use them to eliminate suspects during investigations.

One student wanted to know whether attorneys have any say in what kind of questions are asked during the test.

Stephens said they do not, but they should be able to monitor the test - a point the justices also discussed.

James Valdesalice, who teaches a civics and government course at Musselman High School called "We the People," attended the program with his students.

"It's a unique opportunity for students to interact, really interact, with state government - an opportunity that is only going to happen once," he said.

Tenth- through 12-graders at his school spent two days reviewing the details of the murder case and understanding how the appellate process works, he said.

After watching the justices, students engaged in a debate on Sixth Amendment rights, and whether they felt Jones' Sixth-Amendment right was violated, Valdesalice said. The Sixth Amendment, in part, ensures that those accused of crimes have an attorneys.

The event was held in Circuit Judge David Sanders' courtroom. The bench normally used by Sanders was expanded to provide room for all the justices, although Justice Robin Jean Davis did not attend.

Other students who attended included those from Paw Paw, Berkeley Springs and Martinsburg high schools, Faith Christian Academy, Shepherd Community and Technical College and James Rumsey Technical Institute.

More than 2,200 students have participated in LAWS since the project began in 1999, Maynard said.

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