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Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Docu-trial offers a sobering message for Purdy High School students

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Purdy High School gym was transformed into a courtroom for a mock trial on Monday as a follow-up to the DWI docu-drama held at the school last fall. Judge Victor Head presided over the proceedings with Circuit Court Clerk Craig Williams assisting with the trial proceedings. Facing Judge Head at front center was mock trial defendant Riley Veith with attorney Don Trotter. At the other table was Barry County Prosecutor Johnnie Cox. The jury, pictured at rear right, was composed of Purdy School District residents. [Times Photo by Murray Bishoff]
Students at Purdy High School witnessed a mock trial on Monday as a follow-up to a docu-drama on drunk driving that was held last fall on the school grounds.

Barry County Associate Judge Victor Head presided over the trial with Circuit Court Clerk Kevin Williams, Prosecutor Johnnie Cox and Monett attorney Don Trotter assisting to provide a sense of how a real trial would proceed. In addition, 12 Purdy School District residents heard arguments and rendered a verdict as members of the jury.

Proceedings began with Clerk Williams calling out, "All rise!" as Judge Head entered the high school gym. Head sat at a raised desk in the center of the gym, flanked by United States and Missouri flags. The defendant in the mock trial, Riley Veith, sat at one table with Trotter, and Cox sat at the other.Once the jury entered and was sworn in, Head explained to jury members and the student audience that a criminal involuntary manslaughter case was about to be presented.

Students listened attentively to nearly an hour of testimony from mock witnesses. According to the scenario, defendant Veith had been drinking, got suspended from the baseball team and, after drinking during the day, drove to school to talk to his coach.

Approaching the school, Veith drove around one vehicle at a high rate of speed and then collided with another vehicle driven by fellow students. Two passengers, Nicole Terry and Caleb Willey, were ejected from the two vehicles and later pronounced dead.

Madeline Tate, driver of the second car, and her passenger, Kaitlyn Kast, described being trapped in their vehicle, unable to help their friends. They detailed how Terry was thrown through the windshield and impaled by a windshield wiper.

Purdy Police Chief Jackie Lowe and Highway Patrol Sergeant Gary Horton explained their roles in responding to the accident. Horton detailed three types of field sobriety tests he would administer in such a situation and how an inebriated person would respond.

Stephanie Heston, an emergency medical technician with the Barry-Lawrence Ambulance District, explained calling the coroner for Willey, who laid without a pulse in a ditch, and a helicopter for Terry, who died in flight.

After the jury retired to deliberate, Cox told the audience a real trial would last for several days. The perpetrator, after spending a year waiting in the county jail for a trial, would see graphic photographs showing the accident as evidence.

"You can't take back that kind of mistake," Cox said. "You can never bring those kids back."

Trooper Horton, who has worked for the Patrol for more than 20 years, said the scene shown to students was "pretty mild" compared to many drunk driving accidents he has witnessed. He described one accident where two close friends, out for a social evening, hit another car. Both women were killed as well as two young boys in the other vehicle.

"The time you may spend being punished for that is relatively short over the span of a lifetime," Horton said, "but after it's over, not a day will go be without thinking about it."

Trotter told the audience the issue was a personal one for him. He had been part of a group of high school friends who liked to drink and drive. Three of his friends were killed in accidents where they had been drinking. All three left children too young to ever remember their fathers.

"This is real. This is not a game," Trotter said. "If you get caught, jail is the last of your problems. My friends are dead. I miss them every day."

At the beginning of the presentation, Trotter defended his client by saying he was texting behind the wheel, which he referred to as a "negligent act" but not a criminal one. Texting was not the intended focus of the presentation and was not pursued as the trial proceeded.

According to Judge Head, the defendant was criminally negligent for not driving on his half of the road, no matter the reason. Cox told the students someone texting can be more impaired than a drunk driver, because a drunk driver may at least be watching the road.

"It makes no difference if you're a straight A student," Judge Head told the students. "All it takes is one wrong decision, and it can jeopardize your whole future."

Head said people who drink and drive have usually done it before. A true friend, he said, will intervene and not get in a car with a drunk driver or stop that person from driving. Those who get caught may go through Barry County Drug Court, an intense program the judge described set up to help a person break the grip of alcohol or drug addiction.

"I believe we are going to make a difference in the community," Head said.

As the program drew to a close, the two fatalities in the docu-drama came out to read statements. Willey described watching his parents endure the funeral and burial. Terry read a poem, pointing at someone else's drinking as the cause of her death.

The jury brought back a verdict of guilty and recommended seven years in prison and a fine. Cox said in a real court, a guilty party could get 15 years in jail.

As the program closed, participants in the trial were applauded, and the FCCLA and its faculty sponsor Myra McGee were for running the event.

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