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Forsyth middle school students get trial run
Dr. Christopher Jenkins, played by Liberty Middle School student Zach Moore, is sworn in to testimony by Trey Gaul, who was the mock trial’s bailiff. - photo by Micah Green

CUMMING — A murder trial last week against a famous author featured a change of venue, expert testimony and rigorous cross examinations, before a controversial ruling of not guilty on all counts due to insanity.

The proceedings were all the more remarkable given that no one in the Forsyth County courtroom Wednesday was old enough to drive.

Eighth-graders from Liberty Middle School put famous American author Edgar Allan Poe on trial for emulating the murder from his short story “The Tell-Tale Heart.”

In the story, the protagonist kills another man due to his “evil eye” and hides the body before ultimately being caught.

Students portrayed attorneys for the prosecution and defense, as well as witnesses, bailiffs, the judge and jury. The case involved the murder of a neighbor, and Poe being found “soaked in blood and laughing hysterically, but otherwise coherent.”

Both prosecution and defense called their own witnesses, which included students portraying a neighbor, two psychiatrists, the arresting officer and Poe himself.

The defense contended Poe was not guilty by reason of insanity, while the prosecution argued he was coherent.

 “The defense would have you believe that Edgar Allan Poe was mentally unstable and wasn’t aware of what he was doing,” said student Jillian White. “This is simply not so, because a madman could not — and I repeat not — carry out a plan of such complexity.”

Four charges were brought before the court — murder, felony murder, aggravated assault and capital murder.

In the end, however, the jury decided Poe was not guilty due to insanity.

“I thought it went exceptionally well,” said teacher Beth Paul. “To be at a middle school level and be able to comprehend the story — and then study about the law, and then understand the court and trial process and then be able to put it into action the way they did — that was just really exciting to see.”  

Though the students rehearsed extensively, Paul said the verdict was the result of what they had learned in the process.

“The verdict was not planned, Paul said. “That’s what really happened.”

The students also had some veteran help from longtime North Forsyth High mock trial coach Kathy Vail, who took the school to five state competitions and has a scholarship named in her honor.

“I’ve been working with students since November,” Vail said. “These kids have been just a pleasure to work with, and I hope we have some mock trial-ers next year.”