High school students competing in the Constitution Project — a project that highlights the roles of journalists, law enforcement and lawyers in a democracy — gathered Monday in Houston at the Texas County Justice Center.

The event was a follow-up to a crime scene that occurred in Springfield earlier this month that students observed. On Monday, journalists wrote and pictured the story, prosecutors and defense attorneys argued the case in court before a judge and officers testified on the stand.

The case lasted about two hours in a courtroom. Meanwhile, journalists wrote a story, took pictures and put together a video in 50 minutes. Houston competed against Doniphan. Neosho and Springfield Central also participated.

The day culminated weeks of practice between students and local mentors Sean Smith, Jim McNiell and Brad Gentry representing their various fields. The crime scene involved a stolen car, a suspect who took two rings and $100 in cash from a woman. Before it was done, DNA had been taken and a crime victim testified.

Founded in Houston in 2011 by then Associate Circuit Judge Doug Gaston, the Constitution Project gives high school students a hands-on opportunity to investigate and report about a mock crime scene and eventually try a “suspect” in a mock trial, all under the mentorship of local professionals.

Houston High School students participating in the 2023 Constitution Project competition practiced several times at the school and at their mentors’ offices.

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