Purdy students witness trial from fatal docudrama crash

Wednesday, February 26, 2014
Defendant Jesus Perez, at right, and his attorney, Matt Weatherman, stood as the guilty verdict was read at the docudrama trial. Contributed photo

PURDY -- A mock trial recently completed the docudrama on drunk and distracted driving at Purdy High School, complete with county officials and law enforcement officers emphasizing the dangers and consequences of the practice.

The Purdy Family, Community and Career Leaders of America (FCCLA) conducted the event.

The docudrama involved a two-vehicle crash on Sept. 20, 2013, on Gabby Gibbons Drive, east of the high school. On Feb. 17, Jesus Perez, the driver who survived the crash, went on trail for involuntary manslaughter in a courtroom setting staged on the Purdy High School gym floor. Perez was defended by Matt Weatherman, from the public defender's office in Monett. Barry County Prosecutor Johnnie Cox presented the state's case. Presiding over the trial was Barry County Associate Judge Robert Foulke.

Barry County Clerk Craig Williams swore in all witnesses who testified. The jury panel consisted of Julia Mareth, Ashley Linebarger, Ana Salas, Russ Neill, Carol Roller, John Duncan, Johnny Terry, Betty Terry, Stacy Stevenson, Zabdi Salazar, Robin Henderson and Ed Mareth, foreman. Testimony was provided by Purdy Police Officer Russ Nichols and Stephanie Heston, emergency medical technician.

Student witnesses Ashley Lowery, Dana Cunningham and Saima Akhtar recounted their experiences and faced cross examination from the defense. Perez took the stand in his own defense, the only witness called by the defense team.

When asked about that fateful day Perez said, "I'm sorry. I never meant for anything to happen."

In a closing argument on behalf of his client, attorney Weatherman pleaded, "Two lives have already ended. Don't end a third. Show mercy and find the defendant not guilty."

After deliberating for a brief time the jury returned a guilty verdict. During deliberations, Judge Foulke, Cox and Weatherman addressed the student body. Weatherman observed that any defendant who faces driving while intoxicated and involuntary manslaughter charges, "will never be the same -- guilty or not guilty."

Cox pointed out that the mock trial was just a brief demonstration of a much longer process. He spoke of young men involved in drunk driving fatalities.

"They will be spending the better part of their lives in prison because they chose to drive drunk," he said.

Foulke encouraged the students at Purdy High School to work together, "To make Purdy DWI-free. That ought to be your goal...you can never take it back once someone is dead."

The two students declared as casualties in the crash, Jazmine Rodriguez and Lucas White, read poems to close out the event.

"Someone should have taught him that it's wrong to drink and drive," White said. "Maybe if his parents had, I'd still be alive."

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: