Mock trial teaches students real justice

Franklin County, Pa., celebrates Law Day

Franklin County, Pa., celebrates Law Day

May 06, 2006|By DON AINES


The jury deliberated five minutes Friday in Franklin County Court before acquitting a woman who never was, of a crime that never occurred, in a town that never existed.

Teaberry Olson, owner of the Terrible Towel Caf in Barrister, Pa., was found not guilty of the murder of former employee Terese Jameson, who allegedly had threatened to reveal to Pennsylvania Department of Health officials that Olson was cutting corners by mixing horse meat in her hamburger.

Jameson, her skull smashed by a brick with Olson's fingerprints on it, was found in a Dumpster behind the restaurant on Nov. 20, 2004, according to the script.


Friday was Law Day in Franklin County, and the mock trial, with a case being played out before a jury of students, is a long-standing tradition, said Carolyn Seibert-Drager, director of the county Bar Association.

President Eisenhower established Law Day in 1958 as a "day of national dedication to the principle of government under law," and a counter to communist May Day celebrations.

About 200 students from the Chambersburg, Greencastle-Antrim and Waynesboro school districts and home-schooled students crowded Courtroom One, with a dozen selected to serve as the jury.

In less than two hours, they saw a truncated version of a trial, with opening statements, direct and cross examinations, objections, sidebar conferences, closing arguments, a charge to the jury by Judge Richard Walsh and deliberations. The jury deadlocked, with 10 voting for acquittal, but due to time constraints, a majority rather than unanimous verdict was accepted.

"Ladies and gentlemen, you wouldn't normally hear this, but you're going to hear it now," Walsh said during a sidebar in which he kept his microphone on.

"They almost always find them not guilty," Seibert-Drager said of jury verdicts in mock trials, the facts of the scripted cases being somewhat more ambiguous than most of the real-life cases heard by juries. This scenario was written by the Young Lawyers Division of the Pennsylvania Bar Association and was used for the association's high school mock trial competition, in which students try the case and attorneys serve as the jury, she said.

"This is kind of a role reversal," Seibert-Drager said, with local attorneys acting the parts of prosecutors, defense attorneys, the defendant and witnesses. In another role reversal, attorney Eric Weisbrod found himself prosecuting rather than defending in the case, while law clerk Carolyn Schweizer played the accused Teaberry Olson.

The student jury had to weigh contradictory evidence and testimony. For example, Olson's fingerprints were on the murder weapon, but so were other unidentifiable prints.

"I didn't think there was enough evidence" to convict, said juror Kelli Thompson of Greencastle-Antrim High School.

"I felt that she was actually lying," classmate and fellow juror Dhara Patel said of Olson/Schweizer's testimony. She voted for conviction.

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