Two Lackawanna Trail sixth graders accused of throwing rocks at vehicles were found guilty of various offenses by a jury of their peers in Wyoming County Court on Friday.
Hunter Patterson, 12, and Kolbe Soltis, 12, were each found guilty by a jury made up of their fellow classmates of criminal mischief and reckless endangerment. Fellow classmates Blake Borich and Sutton Lisk who were changed with reckless endangerment in the same incident were found not guilty.
The incident against the group occurred during a snowball fight in January in which Soltis threw a rock roughly the size of a baseball through the windshield of a car driven by Chris Gerchen, a sixth grade teacher at Trail.
After the verdict was read, Wyoming County District Attorney Jeff Mitchell, who prosecuted the case, asked that bail be set at $50,000 each for Soltis and Patterson. Defense attorney Kelly Carrubba, who represented the four students, argued that the two had no previous criminal record, and asked that the two be released on their own recognizance.
After careful consideration, Judge Russell Shurtleff set bail at $25,000 apiece, and informed the two defendants that they faced a maximum of eight years in prison, and $17,500 fines for their heinous acts.
Fortunately, despite the fact everything was conducted with all the formality of a regular court case, the trial was in fact a simulation, held in conjunction with Law Day.
Judge Shurtleff explained that the event goes back many years, in which sixth graders from Trail and Tunkhannock view mock trials held in Courtroom One. During Friday’s ‘trial,’ Shurtleff, Mitchell, Carrubba and other court officers treated the event with the utmost seriousness, providing the students with a look at actual workings of a courtroom.
After the sixth grade class filed into Courtroom One, all stood up when Shurtleff entered the room and began the proceedings. He carefully explained how the proceedings would work.
“District Attorney Jeff Mitchell is the chief law enforcement officer for Wyoming County,” he explained.
One major difference would be that the accused would be tried like ‘adults,’ with a jury, the judge said. Trials involving juveniles don’t have a jury.
The jury was made up of sixth grade students, all who sat in the jury box during the entire proceedings. The four accused sat with their attorney, which is a common practice during an actual trial.
Both attorneys made their opening arguments, which Mitchell stating that during a snowball fight held in Hunter Patterson’s yard, participants began throwing snowballs at cars and laughing. This escalated to the point where rocks were thrown at cars, with one rock breaking the windshield of Gerchen’s car.
By contrast, Carrubba argued that the incident was unfortunate, but had strictly been accidental in nature, with none of the participants intending to throw anything at Gerchen’s car or any other vehicle.
Testimony was taken throughout the trial from investigating officers as well as Gerchen. As part of her defense, Carrubba called each of the defendant’s to the stand to testify on their behalf.
At the conclusion of the trial and after the closing arguments, the jury debated for about five minutes, before returning with its verdict.
“The event gives students the opportunity to understand the court system,” Shurtleff later explained. “It shows them the consequences of poor judgement, as well as allowing them to learn about the judicial branch of government and how the courthouse operates.”
At the end of the trial, some of the defendants were asked what they thought of the verdict.
“It feels good that I’m not going to prison,” said Blake Borich with a laugh.
“I’m going to jail,” said Kolbe Soltis.
Kolbe also said the mock trial was a great way to show why people should not get into trouble.