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For six weeks, a group of kids from the South Baltimore Teen Council laborered to piece together a murder investigation. This was a unique and complicated exercise, requiring the hard work of city cops, prosecutors public defenders and folks with the Department of Recreation and Parks.

It ended on Thursday with a mock trial in a real courtroom, where the teens played various roles of jurors, attorneys, witnesses, cops, a lab tech and the defendant. Only the judge, Althea M. Handy, and the sheriff's deputy were real. The audience included not only the teachers but the police commissioner and two of his commanders. (At left, Eric Hill, 16, playing the role of police officer, is questioned by Morgan Brown, playing a defense attorney. All the photos are by Baltimore Sun photographer Elizabeth Malby).

It had begun in early February at Silo Point, a still-under-construction luxury condo tower that looms over South Baltimore and offers breathtaking views of the city and beyond. The kids found themselves playing the role of cop, standing over the body of a maintenance worker found sleeping inside a room.

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The suspect is later arrested in the boiler room. Southern District officers Kevin Vaught, known as "Butterbean," and others helped design the plot, draw up real-looking police reports and other documents that would take the kids through trial.

Along the way, they got to see the police crime lab, meet with a homicide detective, talk with prosecutors and defense attorneys and strategize about the case. Did they properly give the suspects his rights? Was she drunk when she confessed, and if so, could the confession still be used?

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For the teens, it was an opportunity to network -- they met cops and judges and lawyers -- and to learn that there are many jobs linked to crime investigations other than law enforecement. And many kids brought their own personal motivations to the exercise -- one, India Mouton, told me she has friends and one relative who was shot and killed and wants to help put killer behind bars. It was a reminder of what we were all doing there in the first place. (To the left, Judge Althea M. Handy directs the trial as Marie Sennett, a public defender and one of the organizers of the exercise, looks on).

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What I found from watching the trial on Thursday -- conducted in Handy's fourth floor room at the Mitchell Courthouse in downtown Baltimore -- was that the teens quickly picked up on the rules and knew how to spot inconsistencies in witnesses' stories.

The clerk called the State of Maryland versus Josephine Bagman and the trial commenced.

Opening statements were brief and scripted. Chaivez Brown said simply, "I'm here to prove Josephine Bagman guilty. ... Bagman was drunk and was high and was the only one at the scene and disposed of the murder weapon."

Shandria Robertson, 16, countered with an equally brief opening: "After hearing the evidence, you will find the defendant not guilty."

Eric Hill, 16, played the role of Officer U.R. Knott (though he had to wear a NYPD uniform) and spent a few minutes on the stand, telling how he found the suspect hiding. Morgan Brown, playing the role of defense attorney, asked if he had found a weapon. "No," he answered.

The girl playing, appropriately enough, Sgt. Friday, Raeshida Gibson, told the court that the accused "was slightly intoxicated." To the left, police officers, including Kevin Vaught, far right, and Maj. Scott L. Bloodsworth (far left) and Charles M. Crocker (foreground) watch the proceedings.

Judge Handy had to frequently admonish witnesses and attorneys to speak up -- they were nervous -- but the problem was quickly resolved when a juror pointed out that a microphone they were using was not plugged in.

The attorneys made frequent objections and Handy was quick and firm in her rulings. The winning lawyers pumped their fists; the losing attorneys cowered and hid their heads in shame. In the end, the kids learned how to challenge authority, ask questions, think on their feet and met some people who hopefully can help them later in life. It was a way for the youth to network; perhaps some day a judge named Handy will remember the teen named Chaivez Brown, who wasn't afraid to go off script and come up with his own impromptu closing argument.

(To the left, Marie Sennett gives Vaught an award for helping organize the exercise).

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