Student Spotlight

MU Criminal Justice Students Help Facilitate Loss Group at Harborcreek Youth Services

This year Mercyhurst University started its first university wide Mock Trial Club.  The Club has 40 members who are freshmen, sophomores, and juniors from all different majors (Criminal Justice, Intelligence Studies, Political Science, Public Health, Psychology, Business, History, Fashion Merchandising, and Russian Studies).  After forming teams, selecting a case, and practicing throughout the spring semester, students held the inaugural mock trial competition on campus.  In order to accommodate all of the students (prosecution, defense, witnesses), there were three separate “trials.”

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Each trial was presided over by a member of the Erie County District Attorney’s Office.  Erie County District Attorney, Jack Daneri, and Assistant District Attorneys Erin Connelly and Matthew Militello were all “judges” in the Chris Archer v New Columbia murder cases.  The case focused on the death of 18-year-old Milan Jackson, who died as a result of a 26-foot fall from the clock tower located in the center of campus. The question at hand was how Milan came to fall during a pledging activity sponsored by Phi Gamma, a co-ed fraternity during the last week of pledging known as “Hell Week.”  Mr. Archer was charged with first degree murder and was accused of pushing Milan off of the tower resulting in her death.

Although each of the “trials” ended in a not guilty verdict, the students had a great afternoon trying the case and receiving constructive feedback from the judges. Each of the judges was impressed with the students’ performances and was surprised that the participating students ranged from freshmen to juniors. 

For fall 2014, the Mock Trial Club is planning to field one (or two teams) in the American Mock Trial Association competition. Faculty from the Criminal Justice Department is advising the Club.  Dr. Maria L. Garase is the Club’s Educator Advisor and Attorney Tina Fryling is the Club’s Legal Advisor. According to the 2014 Major Day sign, in, there are already 20 incoming freshman who are interested in joining the Mock Trial Club! 


Harborcreek Youth Services (HYS) is a fully accredited child and family social service agency, and as one of its many services, provides residential treatment services to young men involved in the juvenile justice system.  To facilitate rehabilitation and treatment processes, some of the young men participate in a Loss Group.  The Loss Group, which began in 2011, is based on the Highmark Caring Place model of serving the needs of grieving children and teens.  HYS is currently running their eighth cycle of Loss Group and have served over 40 different residents.  This 10 week group deals primarily with losses through death, but is has also focused on other losses as well (e.g., parental rights revoked, parent in prison).  Group members spend time sharing their loss story, as well as examining the many feelings that accompany the loss.  For each cycle of the group, the participants create a "Memory Pillow" which is a highlight in each group. 

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This session two Mercyhurst University students, Mike Brenot and Matt Goddard, helped facilitate the group.  Mike, a junior criminal justice major with a concentration in law enforcement, said “When people think about youth in placement, they automatically form a label towards these young men, when really they aren't bad kids.  They have just made poor decisions. I have learned that these kids are very caring, and grateful. These kids just need some attention, and have people just listen to them.”  Matt, a junior criminal justice major with a pre-law concentration, said that “helping facilitate the loss group has been a wonderful way to get experience with children being treated within the juvenile justice system. This unique opportunity allows me do activities with children who have experienced a loss of a close friend or family member. The children involved in this group are wonderful examples of juveniles that can be rehabilitated and kept out of the adult criminal justice system.”

Both Mike and Matt are not only helping these young men in the group, but they are learning that their time and efforts are intrinsically rewarding as well.  Mike said, “This opportunity is important to me because I want these young men to be successful in the future. These guys are pretty young, they have their whole lives ahead of them. It’s not too late to turn their lives around, and if I can help in doing that in any way, then I would feel successful.” Similarly, Matt agrees and said that “It has been a great experience making a difference in the lives of these youth and seeing them grow as individuals.” 

Barb Lindstrom, the Campus Minister at HYS said “The HYS residents have responded to Matt and Mike in a very positive manner.  The HYS clients enjoy interacting with the Mercyhurst students and learning from them.  This partnership is a win-win for HYS and for Mercyhurst University.” This ten week program has allowed both the Mercyhurst students and the HYS Loss Group residents to see each other as human beings and not labels such as “college student” or “delinquent”, but rather as individuals who trying to attain their goals. 

Dr. Maria L. Garase, associate professor of criminal justice, agrees.  “Mercyhurst University’s Criminal Justice Department actively seeks out opportunities for our students to get ‘real world, hands on’ experience in the field of criminal justice prior to graduation.  This is one of those instances where we can be a great institutional partner by providing valuable learning experiences for both our students and the residents of HYS.”  HYS was recognized as the 2013 PA-JCJC Residential Program of the Year sponsored by the Juvenile Court Judge's Commission and the Pennsylvania Council of Chief Juvenile Probation Officers. 

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