This is the second part of a series on teenagers who are participating in a mock murder investigation:
The questions came fast and furious, the prosecutor pouncing on every utterance.
"Where were you on the night of the shooting?"
"At home," the suspect answered.
"What would you say if I told you I had a witness who saw you at the scene of the homicide last week with a gun in your hand?"
"I was home by myself," she said.
"What if I told you I pulled your records and you own a gun, the same kind used to kill this person? The crime lab came back with the bullets — your bullets were used to shoot this person. You have a gun."
"Yes, I have a gun."
She paused. "I want a lawyer."
McCarthy, whose real job is prosecuting criminals at the Eastside District Courthouse on North Avenue, was playing the part of a homicide detective trying to get Bouknight, playing the role of a suspect in a murder, to confess to the crime. McCarthy lied about the gun records to get her to admit she had a weapon.
"See how I can trick you?" McCarthy told Bouknight.
"Was all that I said, can that be used against me now?" the youngster asked.
"Yep," McCarthy answered. "I didn't know you had a gun. ... police officers can trick you. That's why you got to be careful."
The exercise was part of a month-long program to take 30 students from city recreations centers through a murder investigation, from found body to trial. They've already played the role of cops, responded to a luxury high-rise condo at Silo Point in Locust Point and found a dead maintenance supervisor who had confronted one of his workers for sleeping in a model apartment.
They again Thursday night at the police station to interview and prepare charges against the maintenance man, and the kids took turns playing the role of prosecutor and suspect. The learned about advising people they're about to question of their rights and how detectives can use subterfuge to get the information they want.
"We trick them into thinking they are helping themselves by talking to a police officer," Sgt. Steve Hohman told the group, adding that after years spent in homicide and now leading the Southern District's shooting squad, he's amazed that anyone initials the forms and agrees to talk to him without an attorney. "You're in that room because a police officer wants to lock you up for a crime," Hohman explained to the teens. "Anything you say can only help his case. No good is going to come from you talking to us."
Next week, the teens will tour the Baltimore Police Department's crime lab and then meet with prosecutors to build their case for court, a process I'm following. On March 12, they will stage a trial in a real court room, with the kids playing various roles of attorneys, witnesses, jurors and cops. Baltimore Circuit Court Judge Althea M. Handy will preside over the rare nighttime proceeding.
Marie Sennett of the public defender's office helped develop the program that is designed to give teens a new perspective on law enforcement and give them ideas for future careers. Already, some have expressed interest in being lawyers or joining the medical examiner's office.
Everybody has seen police interrogations on TV, and Hohman tried to separate fact from entertainment. No, they don't beat or abuse suspects. They get more information by treating people nicely; yelling only makes them shut down. They might talk to someone for hours about the weather or family — anything but the crime — to lull them into a false sense of security. They might face the suspect toward the door of the interview room, a psychological trick to get them thinking if there is a way out if only they talk.
McCarthy showed how it's done.
Frank Looney, 19, playing the role of suspect, assured McCarthy he was playing basketball the night of the killing, though he couldn't recall the names of his friends, and said he later went to his cousin Antoine's house.
"Do you have Antoin's phone number," the prosecutor asked.
"What's his mother's name?"
"Everyone's got an Aunt Mary," McCarthy told him.
The public defender later asked Looney how he felt being interviewed.
"Violated," he answered.