MADISON – Boone County students, teachers, parents, local officials and other citizens came to watch the state’s highest court hear oral arguments Monday, April 7, 2014, in the Boone County Courthouse as part of a special project.
The justices on the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia heard oral arguments on three separate cases as part of the “LAWS” project.
The LAWS project - an acronym for Legal Advancement for West Virginia Students-takes place once annually in a select Mountain State community and aims to teach students about West Virginia’s criminal justice system.
“We want to teach students and others about how the legal system works,” said Boone County Circuit Judge William Thompson.
Students from Van, Sherman and Scott high schools in Boone County listened to cases involving various topics.
Van students listened to the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia listened to oral arguments in a case involving a criminal appeal.
The defendant, Antonio Prophet, was appealing the sentencing order of the Circuit Court of Berkeley County entered on Sept. 10, 2012, through his attorney Chris Prezioso.
The defendant was convicted of two counts of murder in the first degree and one count of arson in the first degree on July 16, 2012. The jury did not recommend mercy.
The defendant was sentenced to incarceration for life without the possibility of parole for the death of his girlfriend; incarcerated for life without the possibility of parole for the death of his girlfriend’s three-year-old son; and incarcerated for 20 years for subsequently setting fire to the garage apartment where the remains of his girlfriend and her son were found. The circuit court ordered the sentences to run consecutively.
In this appeal, the defendant requested that the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia reverse the order sentencing the defendant.
Students were asked how they felt about the case and unanimously voted to affirm the defendant’s conviction.
“I was very impressed with the questions asked by the students,” Prezioso said. “They obviously paid very close attention to the arguments and asked some very good questions.”
Sherman High Schools students listened to a criminal appeal in a Fayette County case in which the defendant asked the high court for a new trial.
Scott High School students also listened to a criminal appeal in another Berkeley County case requesting the high court to suspend the defendant’s sentence and set aside the circuit court’s award of restitution to the victim in the case.
Attorneys delivered oral arguments, which seemed to captive audiences of each case, as well as Chief Justice Brent Benjamin and Justices Robin Jean Davis, Margaret L. Workman, Menis E. Ketchum and Allen H. Loughry II.
The cases are real and decisions by the high court will be made by early June, officials with the Supreme Court said.
Justice Davis is a Boone County native and a graduate of Van High School.
“The Court expresses its appreciation to the Boone County Board of Education, the Boone County Commission and the Honorable William S. Thompson, Judge of the 25th Judicial Circuit, and all staff members involved for their invaluable assistance in preparing and hosting the LAWS program,” Davis said. “The Court also thanks the teachers and volunteer attorneys for their important role in providing this educational opportunity.”
Boone County Circuit Judge William Thompson also thanked the Boone County Sheriff’s Department for assisting students on and off school buses that brought them to the courthouse.
Founded in 1999 under the leadership of then-Chief Justice Robin Jean Davis, the LAWS project arranges for students to spend several weeks learning about a particular case pending before the high court with the assistance of volunteer attorneys who visit their classrooms. Then, after watching the plaintiffs’ and defendants’ lawyers deliver oral arguments to the high court, students are afforded the unique opportunity to quiz those attorneys on various aspects of those cases.
“I think the students learned a lot,” Thompson said. “They asked questions, gave opinions and understood the ins and outs of the cases by the time attorneys presented oral arguments.”
Thompson said the LAWS project is an invaluable asset to West Virginia students as well as the state.
“I support the program whole-heartedly,” he said. “We have a lot of people who don’t know enough about the third, separate and coequal part of government - our judicial system. It affects virtually everything that happens in someone’s life. It’s critical that we continue to try to reach the next generation of students because they are the future of West Virginia.”
Boone County Schools Assistant Superintendent of Schools Dr. Lisa Beck concurred, calling the LAWS project “a fabulous learning opportunity for our area high school students.”
“It is a chance for them to participate in something they may otherwise never experience,” Beck said.
“I am proud that our Supreme Court makes projects such as this a priority. We are fortunate to have Justices who see the benefit and importance of outreach projects, and we are proud to have served as the host court this year,” Thompson added.