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Mock trial puts aspiring deputies on stand

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J.R. John displays a photo of Kirt Swann taken shortly after he was shot to death and asks a roomful of students how the man died.

The photo of Swann's back shows shotgun pellets embedded near the surface of his skin and no powder burn marks. That and the part of a screw embedded in his back indicate Swann was shot while barricading a door. After shooting Swann, the gunman, Kenny Marchant, shot his wife, Misty Marchant, then drove to his own house where he took his own life.

Those photos from the July 1994 murder that shocked Davis County were used to illustrate the science of crime-scene investigation to students in the Davis County Sheriff's Office Citizen's Academy. As part of the academy, students learned the importance of precise investigating and reporting.

"Defense attorneys love to make us look bad," said John, who works in the Davis County Crime Lab.

For that reason, investigators must enter every crime scene with an open mind. Jumping to conclusions about what happened is the quickest way to botch an investigation.

"When we go into a crime scene we're looking for inconsistencies," John said.

Often, physical evidence can help investigators confirm if a suspect is lying.

Although students were not taken to real crime scenes, they did have the chance to fill out DUI reports and take the stand during a mock trial to testify from their reports.

A member of the Davis County Attorney's office faced off against public defender Glen Cella.

It's the defense attorney's job to cast reasonable doubt in a case, not to bring out the truth, Cella said.

Cella doesn't even ask a client if he's guilty or not. Cella simply explains to the suspect he can accept a plea bargain or go to trial, and Cella gives the chances of winning.

When cases do go to trial, the arresting officer must know his report inside and out, as students quickly discovered.

Cella found holes in the reports and testimonies of the students in two mock DUI trials. It's Cella's job to pick apart reports and make the officers look as if they don't know what they're doing.

One officer's ability to administer a DUI test was attacked in one scenario. In another, Cella made the student perform some of his own DUI tests to prove a sober person couldn't do them. The student unsuccessfully tried to stand on one leg, while holding the other leg in front of him for 30 seconds without shaking.

Before the mock trial, students got a tour of the courthouse. An earlier class sent them on a tour of the Davis County Jail. Security officers in the courthouse explained the advanced metal detectors used to detect the weapons that people try to sneak past guards.

In one particularly bad month, deputies confiscated more than 800 knives, razors and Chinese stars. Many of the weapons were concealed to look like pens or hidden in belt buckles.

Deputies said they don't know if the weapons were intended to be used on a defendant, a judge, a lawyer or anyone else.

One time, security had to confiscate a large rock someone tried to bring into the building.

The approximately 9,000 inmates booked each year into the jail can be similarly clever when smuggling contraband or even passing notes inside the jail.

Guards have spotted inmates passing messages by slipping a folded note between two cards lying outside a cell. The cards are attached to a string the inmate uses from inside his cell to retrieve the note.

E-mail: preavy@desnews.com; djensen@desnews.com