VALDOSTA -- The last case presented to a jury Friday afternoon at the Lowndes County Courthouse centered on a charge of theft by taking.

The prosecution alleged that the "defendant," Betsy Rollins, stole a $529 wheely bar from a motorcycle that belonged to Joe Budd.

Normal courtroom proceedings followed -- opening statements, witness testimony, cross-examinations. What made this case and the three that preceded it unusual was the average age of the participants, none of whom were over 15.

Valdosta State University Continuing Education's week-long summer camp, "Beyond a Reasonable Doubt," culminated in camp participants taking what they had learned about the legal system to a real courtroom.

"Originally, we were going to do this at the Continuing Education building," said Budd, a camp instructor who is also a VSU criminology graduate assistant. "But Judge (Joni) Parker has a daughter who was in another camp. She helped the class get the courtroom."

Budd and fellow instructor and criminology graduate assistant Rollins wrote up four criminal cases. Then, on Friday, the campers took turns fulfilling the roles of judge, prosecuting attorney, defense attorney and jurors.

Rollins described the camp, geared toward 11- to 15-year-olds, as hands-on and as realistic as instructors could make it. Rollins said the feedback from campers showed they relished the experience. "I wouldn't doubt if three or four of these kids went to law school."

Curtis Wisenbaker, 12, has his sights set on law school. The Lowndes Middle School student played a defense attorney in one case. "It was very interesting to be in the real courtroom," he said.

What about the differences between TV dramas and real legal proceedings? "It doesn't compare to the real courtroom," he said.

Malcom Warren, 12, played the judge in the theft by taking case in which Rollins was found not guilty. "(The camp) has given me a whole new look on law, how lawyers have to prepare themselves and how things go together," the Valdosta Middle School student said. "It's a whole different concept when you get into the real courtroom."

For information about VSU Continuing Education program, visit www.valdosta.edu/conted.



To contact City Editor Heath Griner, call 244-3400, ext. 274.

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