St. Thomas More students “arrested’ as part of mock trial

Arraignment held at assembly with the help of Judge Zuk

The final assembly for Catholic Schools Week at St. Thomas More School in Withamsville was interrupted by the arrest of two eighth grade students as part of the school’s mock trial Friday, Feb. 4.

t. Thomas More eighth grade student deputy Justin Brunot and Clermont County Sheriff's eputy Eric Campbell lead the handcuffed offenders Collin Threet and Jena Molitor into Municipal Court Judge Ken Zuk's mock courtroom at the St. Thomas More gymnasium for an arraignment hearing as part of the school's mock trial.
St. Thomas More is holding its second mock trial with the help of Municipal Court Judge Ken Zuk and his bailiff Melissa Gerome. While mock trials are usually part of high school extra curricular activities,Gerome proposed introducing the program at the private junior high school last year as part of the school’s focus on hands-on learning.

This year’s mock trial kicked off with the arrest and arraignment hearing at the St. Thomas More gymnasium in front of an assembly of seventh and eighth graders.

Students Jena Molitor and Collin Threet were handcuffed and read their Miranda Rights by Clermont County Sheriff’s Deputy Eric Campbell under the supervision of eighth grader Justin Brunot.

Judge Zuk then entered the gymnasium along with the student defense attorneys Rachel McGrath, John Meisman, and John Wenk mentored by public defender Amelia Morgan, and the student prosecuting attorneys Katie Farr, Micah Diemler, and Trevor Lynd mentored by Clermont County assistant prosecutors Lara Molnar and Chris Feldhaus.

Threet and Molitor have been accused of assaulting fellow students Max Bartel and Gabby Quesnell at a St. Thomas More boys basketball game in the school’s gymnasium that was to have occurred on Jan. 15 between St. Thomas More and the fictitious St. Abadios school. They pleaded not guilty.

After proceeding with the arraignment Zuk set the bond for both students at $10,000 on their own recognizance and released them with the signatures of their mothers Leslie Molitor, and Anita Threet.

Zuk then took a few moments to explain to the students gathered the importance of what they had just witnessed.

“These charges are supposed to have happened in this very gym,” Zuk said. “These students will go through the process of a trial just like anyone else in the system would.”

In addition to their time in Zuk’s court room, the students will also spend time with their mentors learning the process of trying a case and the details of their role. In addition to the attorneys, the deputy, and the defendants, students will play the roles of bailiff, witnesses, and jurors.

St. Thomas More Principal Peg Fischer said the school is very focused on a blend of hand-ons on learning and academic study.

“A good balance makes learning fun,” Fischer said. “It’s one thing to study the legal system in a classroom, it’s another to see just how it plays out.”

Michelle Witt is the mother of one of the defendant’s witnesses, Olivia Witt. She said the students in the assembly were paying close attention and showed a genuine interest in the proceedings.

“I think it’s really good for them to get an understanding of the system and how it works,” Witt said. “I’m looking forward to the trial in April. It’s really exciting.”

Fischer said the mock trial process gives the eighth graders a number of skills that will help them become better overall students.

“As jurors they have to be thinking and analyzing as they listen to each witness and the attorneys to decide what is important and who is telling the truth,” Fischer said. “It’s such a great experience because they see the security going into the court and the witnesses being sworn in and they see the severity of the situation.”

Mother of defendant Jena Molitor, Leslie Molitor, said the mock trial gives students the opportunity to see how a real trial works at a young age, instead of basing their perceptions on a TV court room drama.

“I’m learning some things today. I never got to witness something like this at their age,” Molitor said. “It helps the jurors understand that this really is your civic duty, and it might spur some interest in a career in law.”

Fischer said that working with the volunteers from the public defenders office, the Prosecutor’s office, the Sheriff’s office and the court allows the students to gain a better understanding of what the various jobs entail.

“This is how they see what attorneys do,” Fischer said.

Zuk said he was very excited about the opportunity to participate in the event for the second year in a row.

“I enjoyed working with the eighth graders last year and I think I learned something from them. A lot of volunteers put in a lot of time and work to make this happen and I want to thank them,” Zuk said. “I hope it’s a good learning experience for everyone and it provides some understanding of the court system so the students are not afraid of it.”