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Local

Grundy County students participate in county government

Students had mock trial, board meeting

Sean Cassady of Minooka Intermediate School reads off the not guilty verdict the student jury rendered during Thursday's mock trial for Grundy County government day.
Sean Cassady of Minooka Intermediate School reads off the not guilty verdict the student jury rendered during Thursday's mock trial for Grundy County government day.

MORRIS – Grundy County students had a chance to see how the county works on Thursday when they stopped by the county administration for Government Day. The event was put on by University of Illinois Extension Office and included a tour of the administration building and a chance to participate in some mock county business.

One group of students headed over to the courthouse and participated in a mock trial. They filled is as clerk, judges, attorneys and jurors. Saratoga Elementary seventh-grader Gracie Ritter served as prosecutor.

"I think we'll win," she said after the jury went off to deliberate.

The case involved incident where the victim, portrayed by an employee from the State's Attorney's Office, claimed they were beaten with a baseball bat by their neighbor.

Grundy County State's Attorney Jason Helland said his office started with the mock trial because it's a way to show what the office does.

When he first took over the office and students came to see what happens at the state's attorney's office, the office itself wasn't all that interesting.

"It's files," he said. Instead, the mock trial allows for more drama. "People want that Perry Mason moment."

In Thursday's mock trial, the victim claimed she had been attacked by the defendant with a baseball bat, although the injuries described in the police report were minor and did not match up with the victim's story. The victim was also intoxicated at the time of the attack - up to 14 drinks. The defendant testified that she was defending her sister.

Helland told the students that, in real life, the state's attorney's office would probably not have actually brought a case like that to trial. If the office didn't think it could win with the proof it had, then it wouldn't try the case.

Minooka Intermediate School fifth-grader Sophia Facchina played the role of public defender. She said she'd thought about being a lawyer before the event, and the mock trial didn't change that.

"Sometimes the public defender can be better than a private lawyer," she said.

Elsewhere, in the Grundy County Administration building, another group of students worked as the county board. They worked handle an issue before the county, which in years past had been infrastructure related or a sand mine in the county. This year, they discussed the coming of an amusement park to Grundy County - Great Mid-America.

Given information, such as location, economic impact and the general proposed plan of the park, the broke up into committees, just like the real county board, to discuss specific issues: The health committee discussed how would First Aid be handled in the park, the environmental committee discussed impacts on water and wildlife in the area, and highway committee discussed how traffic will be affected by the influx of fair-goers.

For most of the students, it was their first time in the county administration building. The event is a tradition for schools in the area, with this year being the 42nd year it's taken place.

The student jurors had to elect a foreman once they got into the back room. They elected fifth-grader Sean Cassady from Minooka Intermediate School as foreman. Although jury rooms have a reputation for being tense - there's a reason "12 Angry Men" still holds up today - Cassady said it was more joke and laughing. At first vote, 10 of the jurors thought the defendant was innocent, he said.

Anthony Xydakis, a sixth-grader from Saratoga, was one of the two who thought she was guilty.

"(The victim) did have a scratch on her face, and it was intentional, so that's technically battery," Xydakis said.

But, per the jury instructions the judge gave to the kids before they voted, the result had to be unanimous and 10 minutes after going to deliberate, they came back and Cassady read their decision: Not Guilty.

After the trial was over, the students said they had enjoyed the experience.

"It was cool to see how it works," Ritter said.

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