Search for missing Van Gogh illuminates path to justice

A Van Gogh print had disappeared and the evidence at the scene - a piece of fabric, a pen, a footprint and fingerprints - may or may not have been left by one "Sneaky Sydney."

Sixth-grade students from Meneley Elementary School held a mock trial in district court Friday to determine the fate of defendant Sneaky, aka Lindsay Browder.

Meneley students have been participating in mock trials for eight or nine years, said teacher Sherrie Jackson.

"All of the four sixth-grade classes went through the forensics class and the teachers voted on who had the best presentation," Jackson said. "That class won the mock trial."

The students in Krystal Koontz' class won the chance to be judge, jury, witnesses and attorneys in the case of the missing Van Gogh.

"The students wrote all of the questions - it wasn't scripted," said Jackson. "The jury has to make decisions based on evidence. The students had to give up lunch and recess to do this."

Student judge Brett Ferrari gave instructions to the court.

"This is a very serious task and very important to our system," said Ferrari. "Jury, your job is to weigh the facts and make sure they're consistent with the law."

Some of the jurors doubled as witnesses due to class size.

"This is all very illegal," said teacher Jackson.

Bailiff Jason Griffith, wearing a silver star badge, swore in the witnesses. Fabric test expert Garrett Moore, put up his left hand when he was sworn in but changed his mind and raised his right.

"I object," said defense attorney Stevie Kinzy in response to questioning of the pen expert by one of the other defense attorneys. The audience laughed that she objected to what someone on her own team had said.

In his critique of the students' mock trial, deputy district attorney Mark Jackson told Kinzy that she was right.

"Stevie objected and she was right," said Mark Jackson. "The self-proclaimed pen expert talked about a footprint. That was outside his field of expertise. I want you to know you were right."

"There are some attorneys out there that I object to what they do," said Mark Jackson. "But I don't object to you guys. I hope you pursue it more."

Lindsay Browder, 12, was Sneaky Sydney in the mock trial.

"This was a lot of fun," said Browder. "It makes me think about maybe being a lawyer. I learned about fabric, fingerprints and footprints and ink in forensics class."

"I was chosen because I was always early to school so Mrs. Jackson pulled me out of class and said I was going to the suspect criminal," she said.

Sneaky's fate was in the hands of the jury. The prosecution team, Savannah Miller, Megan Vaughan and Nathan Miller, hoped to seal the case in their closing arguments.

"First, the fingerprints were almost exact," said student attorney Savannah Miller. "Second, she was wearing the same fabric. That's why I believe she's guilty."

The defense team, Sarah Weaver, Brittany Wilson and Stevie Kinzy, hoped to save their client.

"They said the footprints matched and almost everyone in that class had the same size foot," said Weaver. "Not guilty."

After the jury left the courtroom for deliberations, the court's audience of Meneley sixth-graders was asked, in an irregular courtroom action, what their opinion was.

"Guilty," most of the students said. The audience was vindicated when the jury announced the same popular decision.

"Thank you for the work you've done," said Judge Ferrari. "This case is closed."

After the courtroom drama, the students were going to the sheriff's office to try on drunk goggles and witness Sneaky Sydney get fingerprinted.


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