- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 24, 2019

LUFKIN, Texas (AP) - Angelina College students got an immersive crash course in the legal system with a mock murder trial.

The Lufkin Daily News reports Dawn Shapaka’s advanced criminal law class in the paralegal program acted as the prosecutor, defense attorney and witnesses. Kevin Fritze’s community resources class acted as the jurors.

“The students actually came up with the idea, and if all goes well, we are considering making this a yearly event,” Shapaka said.

The case was The State of Texas v. Donna Osborn, a fictitious case in which a woman is accused of murdering her husband. Heather Harris played Donna and Yamileth Moreno played her defense attorney. Jasmine Allen played the assistant district attorney/prosecutor.

“It is alleged that on or about Feb. 14, 2018, Donna Osborn intended to and did cause the death of Clinton Osborn II, her husband, while at the residence 805 Clover St.,” Shapaka said. “She fired two shots from a Beretta 9 mm semiautomatic pistol, which struck Clinton Osborn in the back and caused his death.”

Donna Osborn pleaded not guilty to the charge.

“Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, people of the courtroom, on Feb. 14, 2018, we witnessed the death of a man, a husband and a father, who was killed in cold blood by his wife, the wife he loved for three years,” Allen said in her opening statement.

“Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, the prosecution might tell you that Clinton loved his wife, but this is not true,” Moreno said in her opening statement. “My client did not murder her husband in cold blood. Not only is this a lie, but it perpetuates the battered woman syndrome and makes victims scared to come forward. Donna Osborn, as I will prove, defended herself. This is a self-defense case.”

The state’s first witness was Christina Powell, played by student Lissette Pena. In the story, Powell works for the Angelina County Sheriff’s Office. She testified that it would be pretty difficult to hit a target, especially a moving one, in the heart even once if the shooter had never been trained.

The defense questioned Powell about a domestic violence call she responded to on Feb. 7 during which Clinton Osborn claimed that Donna Osborn had fallen down the stairs, explaining the blood on her face. Powell never spoke to Donna Osborn during this event.

“I tried to talk to her, but she just agreed with her husband that she fell,” Powell said.

In response to being questioned on why she didn’t question the two witnesses separately, she replied, “At the time, I didn’t think straight; I should’ve.”

However, all reports of the incident were lost in a fire.

The state’s next witness was Lauren Crown, played by Mekayla Havard. Crown is the Osborn family physician. She reported that she has known Clinton Osborn since they were children and that they often play golf together. She said she met Donna Osborn when she began dating Clinton Osborn, and she had never noticed any anger or malice between the two.

Crown treated Donna Osborn on multiple occasions for lacerations and broken bones. Most of these incidents Crown chalked up to softball injuries and falls down the stairs.

“She was clumsy; she did have several accidents,” Crown said.

When asked if she ever found this high amount of injuries suspicious, she responded that she believed what Donna Osborn, her patient, told her.

“I never really questioned her; I just took her at her word,” Crown said.

The next witness was Claire Osborn, played by Natalie Garcia. Claire Osborn is Clinton Osborn’s mother.

“He loved her very much,” she said. “He would do anything for her.”

She also testified that Donna Osborn didn’t often help Clinton Osborn upkeep the house or take care of their son, and she spent a lot of time with a man named Jack Matthews from the school at which she worked.

“Clinton said he found them talking alone in a room,” she said. “She was sitting on the table over him, and he was sitting on a chair.”

However, she did testify that she had seen her son push Donna Osborn into a wall one day in front of her. She spoke to Clinton Osborn after this happened, and he acted remorseful.

“I told him that that wasn’t acceptable,” she said. “That’s not the way I raised him.”

Jack Matthews, played by Brandon Yarbrough, took the stand to testify. He recalled a day when he saw Clinton Osborn push Donna Osborn in her classroom.

“The way he grabbed her in her classroom could be considered abuse,” Matthews said.

Matthews said he offered to help Donna Osborn find a place to stay if she needed help.

Laura Harris, played by Chantel Cryer, took the stand after Matthews. She works for Options for Battered Women, a nonprofit organization. Harris testified that Donna Osborn called the organization’s hotline on multiple occasions to report being abused by her husband. The dates on the hotline’s reports matched with the dates Donna Osborn visited Crown’s office.

The prosecution and defense presented their closing arguments, and the jury left the room to deliberate.

The jury’s verdict came back as murder, crime of sudden passion, a second-degree felony, which Shapaka said was the less severe verdict offering a much shorter prison sentence.

Allen and Moreno said they truly enjoyed the experience, and they both felt more confident on the second day of the mock trial proceedings.

“It was fun doing it; you truly get in the zone,” Moreno said. “It helps you speak up. We can come to the class shy, but if you want to be in the legal field, you can’t be shy.”

“And you start asking what questions could you ask the witness and what could you trip them up on,” Allen said. “It helps apply what we learn in class.”

Shapaka said the mock trials she went through in law school helped her greatly, and she thinks it did the same for her students, preparing them for law school. Fritze said his students spend all semester talking about courts and corrections, Constitutional law and more that would be demonstrated in a mock trial.

“This is an opportunity to come and see how it all works in a guided process,” Fritze said. “The class that we’re going to have today, we’re talking about trial and sentencing. We actually did that. Any opportunity we have to connect the dots from class to actually seeing it and experiencing it is priceless.”


Information from: The Lufkin Daily News, http://www.lufkindailynews.com

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2020 The Washington Times, LLC.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide