Innocent or Guilty? Clemente Students Present Their Case
By: Neftali Reyes
In 1985, a man by the name of Steven Avery was framed of brutally raping and beating a woman named Penny Beerntsen. He was sentenced to 36 years in prison and served 18 years until DNA testing proved him innocent. Once he was released, he filed a lawsuit against the Manitowoc police department for what he claimed was a severe case of framing an innocent man. The amount of the civil lawsuit was $36 million. That’s 2 million dollars for every year he served. After just a few years of being free (and a few months before the civil lawsuit was to be decided), he was convicted of murdering a woman named Teresa Halbach. For the second time, the Manitowoc police were accused of framing Steven Avery for a crime he insisted he did not commit.
In my American Law class, we studied this case in depth and did extensive research on both of Avery’s trials so that we could create our own mock trial here at Roberto Clemente Community Academy. With our teacher, Mr. Landaverde, we analyzed this case so much that everyone in class knew the details of the murder case like the back of their hand. We did a bunch of assignments that totally helped us understand the case better than we already did, such as learning about every piece of evidence and analyzing every piece of court testimony. The one thing we did in class that helped us all with the trial was watching parts of the famous documentary on the case (Making a Murderer) and working on various assignments for each part to show that we actually understood what was happening and being said. That way, we would know what we were doing when it came to the trial day.
The actual mock trial was the best part of the project because we actually got to put on the shoes of the defense and prosecution. Our principal, Marcey Sorensen, agreed to be the judge while a group of 12 freshmen who had no knowledge of the case stood in as the impartial jury. I really felt as if Steven Avery’s freedom was on the line in our very own courtroom. It was very fun to see all of my classmates argue their part of the case to the jury and really try to get them to think that Steven Avery was guilty or innocent of the crime. Everyone on both sides of the case was well prepared and extremely passionate with what they presented to the jury.
In the end, the defense won in our mock trial, but the prosecution won in Mr. Landaverde’s other law class. This project made some of my classmates seriously consider majoring in law when they go to college. I think every student should have hands-on experience like this in every subject. Who would have thought that I would be considering a career in law?!