It’s one thing to read about the workings of the American criminal justice system in a textbook, but quite another experience to watch it in action during a high-profile trial.
That’s what a group of Florence High School seniors got Monday when they attended the trail of Markus Kaarma, the Missoula man charged with deliberate homicide in the shooting death of Big Sky High School foreign exchange student Diren Dede.
The students are all in Karen Branzell’s Advanced Placement American government class, and they took a bus to the Missoula County Courthouse for the day to watch the proceedings. The kids sat quietly in the back of the audience section while the two teams of attorneys grilled witnesses for eight solid hours.
“This is a murder trial, so I wanted to give them something meat and potatoes,” Branzell explained of her decision to bring students to the highest-profile trial Missoula has seen all year.
“After today, we’ll talk about the differences between the two attorneys, what an attorney is trying to get to with certain questions and the issues of evidence and terminology like probable cause and stuff like that,” Branzell explained. “Which is what we talk about in class.”
Josh Jones, a student in the class, said he was learning a lot about how the wheels of justice turn.
“It was kind of interesting watching the objections,” he said. “And the process in which they decide how to object and what to object on. It’s actually kind of fascinating that they can do it so quickly. I had a sheet of paper and I was trying to figure out what they were doing on the grounds of, and it’s really interesting that they figure it out so quickly and when the judge overrules or sustains that.”
Jones said he’s never been to a trial, but his father is a contingency lawyer.
“I hear him talk about it every so often,” he said.
Jones said he thinks there have probably been mistakes made by both sides so far, but he wouldn’t say one side or another is prevailing.
“It’s probably very easy to see which side is attacking more,” he said.
Jones said that even though the class is there for only one day, he might return to the trial on his own.
“It’s just so interesting that I might come back,” he said.