published Saturday, September 5th, 2009

Students at Parker trial to learn

by Chloé Morrison
  • photo
    Staff Photo by Tim Barber Walker County Sheriff Steve Wilson, second from left, talks to the media following the Sam Parker murder trial. On the prosecution team, from left, are Assistant District Attorney Natalee Staats, Sheriff Wilson, Georgia Bureau of Investigation Agent James Harris and District Attorney Leigh Patterson.

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LaFAYETTE, Ga. -- Georgia Northwestern Technical College criminal justice instructor Holly Wilson said the Sam Parker murder trial really hit home with her students.

"When they actually get to see it in real life, it's just totally different for them," she said.

Ms. Wilson teaches constitutional law and criminal justice, and her classes spent about four days over the past two weeks watching and listening to testimony in Mr. Parker's trial.

Late Thursday, the former LaFayette police officer was found guilty of killing his wife, Walker County 911 dispatcher Theresa Parker, who was last heard from March 21, 2007.

Wanda Smith, a criminal justice student at Georgia Northwestern, said last week that it was exciting to see how a day in court played out.

She hoped to come back when the verdict was announced, but the students missed it when the jury, after waffling earlier in the day, suddenly returned a guilty verdict Thursday about 4:30 p.m.

Despite missing the verdict, Ms. Wilson said the experience in the courtroom was priceless.

"They get to see how the system works," she said. "We relate it to the topics we cover in class."

Ms. Wilson isn't the only area teacher who thought her students would benefit from watching the murder case, which came to trial without a body or a weapon.

Ringgold High School teacher Chuck Williams, who teaches criminal investigation and forensic science, brought his juniors and seniors to the trial for one day -- which wasn't enough, he said.

"One day in court really didn't do it justice," he said.

But Mr. Williams said it was a "pretty eye-opening" experience for his students.

The Ringgold High students listened to testimony from Georgia Bureau of Investigation agents and discussed the court events in class, Mr. Williams said.

They also read about the trial in the newspaper every day, and Mr. Williams -- a former Walker County deputy sheriff -- said he hopes to get some of his former co-workers to talk to his class when the trial is over. He said he also may buy videos of the trial testimony for his students to study.

Mr. Williams said he was happy to see the jury taking time to think the case through. The 12 jurors -- six women and six men -- deliberated for about 20 hours over three and a half days.

"(Murder) is a pretty serious charge," he said. "I'd rather have somebody really think about it, not make a hasty decision."

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