SAN ANTONIO -- Area kids got to state their case in court on Friday as part of a summer camp led by the Claude & ZerNona Black Youth Leadership Institute.
Judge Lisa K. Jarrett's 436th Juvenile District Court became the setting for a mock trial, which had no real conviction or sentencing. However, the exercise gave its participants the opportunity to learn how the system works and how to avoid end up in court in the first place.
"Three people robbed a store - three juveniles. The defendant is saying he was forced to rob the store," Judge Jarrett said.
Teenagers played every role in the courtroom including the bailiff, court reporter and attorneys.
Friday's proceedings were just one of many programs the Claude & ZerNona Black Foundation provides in hopes of making San Antonio's youth more productive members of society while also preventing juvenile crime.
"They do everything from community service projects, etiquette training, teach them how to walk, talk, dress, eat, act," said Taj Matthews, director of the Claude & ZerNona Black Foundation.
Matthews said a lot of these kids haven't been in a professional environment and he wants them to know juvenile court isn't a place one should want to end up. However, Matthews acknowledges the courtroom can also be a place that expands the students' horizons to potentially enticing career options.
"I know I don't want to be sitting in that seat no more, it's scary at the same time," said mock suspect Shawn Johnson. "It's a good learning experience, it took my mind on wanting to be a lawyer or maybe a judge."
The jury ended up split 7-5 when the final verdict was read so Judge Jarrett declared a mistrial. It's Jarrett's hope Friday's mock trial become an annual event.
"When I hear a politician talk they say 'Oh, we need to work with our young people,'" Matthews said. "I salute Judge Jarrett because of the fact that she's actually doing what she says."