The community outreach event was held to inform residents of the inner workings of the justice system in a safe, inviting venue.
“Hopefully, they will learn how the judicial system works,” said Raymond Kogolo, prevention program coordinator in the DA’s community affairs division. “Because most residents aren’t regularly put in a situation where they have to act as a jury, to judge.”
In addition to the trial, DA staff members spoke and answered questions about their numerous services for victims, explaining about opportunities for crisis intervention, emotional support, court escorting, and compensation, such as $6,000 for funerals and up to $30,000 for loss of wages.
The circumstances of the case presented were based on an actual crime that will be prosecuted in the future. The defendant, played by Marcus Johnson, of the DA’s office, was accused of aiding a friend in a robbery at the Botanical Gardens Metro North station, on his way home from night school classes at Pace University.
He was charged with robbery in the 2nd degree, assault in the 2nd degrees and criminal possession of stolen property in the 5th degree.
Barbara Robles-Gonzales, director of the community affairs unit, who worked out the event after speaking to Morris Park resident in March, explained how the specific trial fits into her office’s strategy to meet the informational needs of the borough.
“We attend different neighborhood meetings and learn what the unique concerns of communities,” she said. “We then tailor make programs for different groups, dealing with a variety of different criminal justice issues.”
In his opening statement, assistant district attorney Rene Aponte, the only member of the mock court playing the role he plays in real life, expressed the real nature of a criminal victim, stating, “What started as a routine trip to the train station turned into one of the most terrifying moments of his life.”
As the trial proceeded, Morris Park residents listened intently, called upon to act as two mock juries at the finale to the evening. While split down the middle, half the crowd asked to act as one jury found the defendant guilty on all counts, while the other crowd declared a mistrial, as two individuals found reasonable doubt in the prosecution’s case.
Agreeing that the event gave insight into the justice system, MPCA President Al D’Angelo commented on the unique outcome of two different verdicts among the audience and its reflection of judicial process.
“It’s the American way,” said D’Angelo, who felt the defendant was guilty, but respected the difference in opinion. “In this country, we’re innocent until proven guilty, unlike some other nations. It makes this country what it is.”