As the proceedings begin, the courtroom is relatively empty, save for a few spectators in the gallery and members of the media.
At the prosecution table, Marady Anderson rises to introduce herself and her two fellow prosecutors.
“If it pleases the court, I’d like to tender a few pieces of information to the bench,” she says. “May I approach?”
The judge listens to the prosecution’s statements before turning his attention to the table on the other side of the courtroom.
“Does the defense have any objections?” he asks.
“Not at this time, your honor,” says Stormy Grindstaff, the lead defense attorney.
The facts of the case are not in dispute. On July 14, 2018, Jordan Ryder – who was recently released from prison and did not have custody of her 12-year-old daughter, Parker Paige – took her daughter on a hike. Parker was reported missing the next morning. A search party subsequently found her body in a ravine and Ryder was eventually charged in the death of her daughter.
The jury box is empty for this afternoon’s arguments, and the judge – portrayed for the moment by Brenden Higashi – briefly calls a halt to things to make a few notes on how the case is going.
If the members of Missouri Southern’s mock trial team seem especially into today’s practice, their surroundings are no doubt a major factor.
The team is utilizing the university’s new mock courtroom, located – appropriately enough – in the Criminal Justice Building.
Completed last fall, it has all of the features one would expect to find in a judicial setting. There is a judge’s bench, witness and jury boxes, tables for the prosecution and defense, and a gallery for visitors to watch the proceedings.
“For mock trial students in particular, the mock courtroom is a really great opportunity to simulate the trial experience,” says Higashi, master instructor in the International & Political Affairs program and the team’s advisor. “Oftentimes, when they go to regional and national competitions, they utilize spaces in actual courthouses. This lets them experience the space and get a sense of the layout.”
Anderson, a sophomore IPA major, says the courtroom is a wonderful tool for the team to utilize.
“Whenever you’re in the classroom, you’re not really immersed in the environment,” she says. “Resources like this really help our team.”
If the courtroom seems to have the air of authenticity, it’s no accident.
“We wanted to make it as close to an actual courtroom as possible, and repurposed some of the furniture from Joplin’s old juvenile office on Pearl Ave,” says Dr. Tim Wilson, chair of the Criminal Justice Department. “It has everything you’d expect for any courtroom setting, whether it be a criminal or civil case.”
Wilson anticipates that the courtroom will be utilized by a variety of students from across campus.
“We’ve reached out to other programs with offers to use it,” he says. “The Social Work Department can use it for courses where they teach advocacy; and the Law Enforcement Academy can use it when talking about giving courtroom testimony.”