Westwood High School government students spent Tuesday morning learning about and observing our state’s legal system during the annual “Day In Court” program sponsored by the Anderson County Legal Professionals’ Association.

Approximately two dozen students in Jay Witt’s government class at Westwood heard comments from 349th State District Judge Pam Foster Fletcher and Anderson County District Attorney Doug Lowe.

The class also observed the reading of the charge and closing arguments in the assault causing bodily injury trial of Johnny Heller, a 34-year-old Palestine man accused of pepper spraying his girlfriend and her 4-year-old daughter.

Prior to the start of Tuesday’s trial, Fletcher spoke to the Westwood students about the jury trial process and importance of voting, while also explaining the meaning of Fifth and Sixth Amendment rights.

Later in the morning, the students enjoyed refreshments in the courthouse rotunda and were addressed by Lowe.

Anderson County Judge Carey McKinney also proclaimed Nov. 15, 2005 as “Day in Court,” with a theme of “Due Process of Law.”

In response to a question from one of the students, the Lowe explained that the State of Texas is a “party” in criminal cases rather than the alleged victim.

Lowe further explained civil cases — such as divorces — are different from criminal cases in that the parties are listed individually by name.

The district attorney also informally polled the Westwood students on their position on the death penalty, with roughly three-quarters raising their hands in support of it.

A male student said he felt the death penalty was too “easy” on the convicted capital murderer.

A female student, who said her mother was employed by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, said she opposed the death penalty and felt life in prison was an appropriate sentence for such a crime.

“It’s (execution) not going to bring them (the victim) back,” she said.

Lowe also warned students about the dangers of drinking and driving.

“There’s nothing worse that can screw up your life than a DWI,” Lowe told the students. “Just don’t do it.”

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