Hundreds of students from Warren and Forest counties were present as a fictitious woman was tried, found guilty, and sentenced to state prison during Warren County Law Day proceedings Thursday morning before Judge Maureen Skerda.
Kayla Smith, 17, of Hometown, was found guilty by a jury of her peers on charges of homicide by vehicle, homicide by vehicle while under the influence of drugs or alcohol, DUI: highest rate of alcohol, and driving on roadways laned for traffic.
Smith, portrayed by Youngsville High School senior Samantha Tome, was driving west on the Route 6 bypass - Dorcon Road - in May 12, 2013, when her vehicle crossed the center line and struck a car driven by the fictitious Carla Harbison, 41, according to testimony by Warren County Sheriff Ken Klakamp.
Harbison was killed in the crash, leaving her seven children orphaned.
"Carla is not here today because Kayla drove while highly intoxicated, hit her head-on, and killed her," District Attorney Rob Greene said in his opening statement.
"Her actions caused a person's death... that's what they'll tell you," Chief Public Defender John Parroccini said. "If you think - 'I think she did it... I'll bet she did it...' That's not enough. When you think about it, you have to say, 'She did it.' You're going to have to make a determination whether she's guilty beyond a reasonable doubt."
Greene called Klakamp, who responded to the crash, as his only witness.
He said there was evidence that Harbison tried to stop, but there were no skid marks from Smith's vehicle.
He testified that he administered field sobriety tests on Smith, who was the only person at the scene other than the deceased, and she "failed all three."
"She was placed under arrest and taken to Warren General Hospital for a blood test," Klakamp testified.
He said the result of that test was a blood alcohol content of 0.17.
"She was over double the legal limit" for an adult, Greene said.
"Yes," Klakamp said.
On cross-examination, Parroccini asked Klakamp if Smith told him she had been driving the vehicle.
"She was the only person there," Klakamp said.
Parroccini repeated the question several times and, after Skerda overruled an objection by Greene, Klakamp said she had not admitted that.
Parroccini called Smith to testify in her own defense.
"I feel awful," she said. "I'm so sorry."
"Do you know what caused the accident?" Parroccini asked.
"No," she said.
"When you got behind the wheel, did you think you were drunk?" he asked.
"No," Smith said.
"You were so drunk you don't remember you were in an accident?" Greene said. "Your BAC was .17... double the legal limit. Do you still think you were OK to drive?"
"No," Smith said.
The jury, comprised of 12 student jurors and two student alternate jurors, deliberated for less than five minutes before determining that Smith was guilty of all charges.
Sentencing followed immediately. Smith - Tome - dressed in a Warren County jail orange and white jumpsuit, stood before Skerda.
Parroccini said Smith had big plans - studying microbiology in college and finding a cure for cancer. "She has her whole life in front of her," he said. "I ask that you not sentence her to jail time."
"I'm sincerely sorry for the actions I've committed," Smith said.
Greene asked for the mandatory minimum sentence of three years in state prison. "Ms. Carla Harbison cannot be here today... her seven children have now become orphans," he said.
Skerda sentenced Smith to three to six years in state prison, eligible for parole after three years, two years driver's license suspension to begin when she is released from prison, $1,025 in fines, $390 in surcharges and fees, costs of prosecution, restitution, submit a DNA sample, undergo a drug and alcohol evaluation and complete recommended follow-up, pay for and complete the county's Alcohol Highway Safety School and Victim Impact Panel, and serve15 hours of community service.
Because she was convicted of a felony, Smith "lost the right to possess any firearm for life," Skerda said.
"Before you begin to feel sorry for yourself, you must remember the victim," Skerda said. Not only did her actions result in Harbison's death, "You have forever changed the lives of those who loved her."
After the mock trial was over, Skerda asked Tome how it felt to be a defendant and undergo sentencing.
"It was awful," Tome said. "Money, jail, I killed somebody. It kept getting worse."
Jill Martone, president of the Warren/Forest Bar Association, said she believes the students were attentive and learned from the mock trial presentation. "I thought it was well received by the kids and very educational," she said.