St. Andrew's Competes in Delaware High School Mock Trial Competition
St. Andrew's Competes in Delaware High School Mock Trial Competition
Dan O'Connell

Last week the St. Andrew's Mock Trial team competed in the Delaware High School Mock Trial Competition at the New Castle County Courthouse. During alternating rounds of the competition, student-attorneys represented either a suspected art thief (played by Mary Puryear '19) or prosecutors representing the State.

Drawing on the wonderful advice from the students and faculty who attended the previous Tuesday's Mock Trial dress rehearsal, Iris Hwang '20 overhauled her opening statement on Wednesday. She then memorized her new argument and, on Friday morning she delivered a clear, well-paced, cogent, and moving opening statement. Her level-headed but emphatic tone helped win the jury's sympathy from the start. Abbi Tarburton '18 portrayed one of the defensive witnesses—an art dealer who pointed the finger at an alternative suspect. Abigail demonstrated thorough understanding of the issues in the case and her acting skill helped entertain and persuade the jury. She was given the Most Effective Witness award at the end of this trial.

One unusual feature of the first trial was that a student-attorney on the opposing team communicated using American Sign Language. It was wonderful to see vigorous and rapid debate taking place via sign language and a pair of ASL interpreters.

In a tournament with 26 teams, St. Andrew's had a 1-1 win-loss record going into the third round. The third and fourth rounds were the strongest. Both the witnesses and the attorneys used lessons from the first two rounds to sharpen their arguments and performances. Our third-round opponents were particularly active in making objections and repeatedly managed to interrupt the flow of some witness examinations. Liam O'Connell '19 succeeded in avoiding such problems by asking direct and cross examination questions that had been phrased and sequenced with care to avoid potential objections. Liam made two particularly effective points during cross examination of the journalist.

Liam also led the direct examination of the defendant, played by Mary Puryear. Mary's portrayal made her a three-dimensional character. Because Mary gave such an authentic and layered performance, she helped the jury see innocent motives behind her delay in returning the stolen artwork. Logan Brown '19 was the final witness for the defense. He faced the difficult task of persuading the jury that, although he was one of the thieves who stole the art in the first place, and although he continues to have connections with blackmarket art dealers, he did not sell any of the missing paintings and his offer to arrange an illegal sale was declined by the defendant. Logan's easy-going, confident, and insightful performance helped complete the defense team's argument. Abbi Tarburton was under particular scrutiny during cross examination by an attorney who kept insisting that she give simple "yes" or "no" responses to complex questions. Demonstrating her confidence and experience, Abbi would not be pushed around. She had the right to explain her answers and did so in ways that consistently helped the defense. Ben Horgan '19, a second-year attorney, delivered the closing argument for the defense. The extent of Ben's preparation and practice were immediately apparent and his adrenaline seemed to flow more freely than ever. Using dramatic pauses, variation in tone, and effective gestures, Ben's closing argument in the third round was the highlight of his tournament.

The fourth and final round gave our prosecution team a chance to make up for their loss in round two. Stella Zhou '18 started the trial with her trademark poise and her crisp and forceful argument. She drew a clear map of the testimony to come. She explained how a seemingly confusing story could be explained by the evidence of greed and cunning.

Carson McCoy '19, a witness with several years of Mock Trial experience, portrayed an art-loving detective. Knowing that the defense was planning to cast doubt on the quality of his investigation, Carson put special emphasis on factual detail. In addition, he spoke with confidence and an unbiased tone. Riley Baker '21 led Carson's direct examination. Riley has been picking up lessons at an amazing rate. After watching how an opposing team succeeded in having the detective certified as an expert in fine art, Riley borrowed this move successfully.

The second witness for the prosecution, played by Bilal Morsi '19, was a journalist and friend of the defendant. Bilal had the challenge of winning the jury's trust in spite of a plea bargain promise to testify for the prosecution. Lively and spontaneous, Bilal was fun to watch. He was also shrewd. Bilal was protected from some hostile questions by prosecution attorney Santiago Brunet '18. Santiago was a bulldog during cross examination of the defendant. He made effective use of objections and forced the defendant to admit several unfavorable facts—including that she was the only person who had access to the stolen paintings.

Stewart Zurbuch '21 performed the role of a nightclub owner who claimed to overhear the defendant plotting to sell the stolen art. Stewart was a quick learner during the competition. He listened carefully to the jury's feedback and worked on making adjustments right away. His performance in the fourth round was his strongest by far. He spoke fluently and with conviction. He understood exactly how his testimony fit into the case as a whole and was tenacious in sticking to his story.

Although she was a first-time attorney, Riley performed a direct examination and cross examination as well as the closing argument for the prosecution. Closing argument can be particularly challenging because it is not possible to anticipate the trial testimony. Riley dove into this challenge with courage and openness. She had a spectacular rookie season.

The prosecution won this trial for the Saints, ending the competition with a record of 2 wins and 2 losses.