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Lafayette College’s newly formed mock trial team will face its first official competition in an American Mock Trial Association (AMTA) regional tournament hosted by Princeton University Feb. 11-13. The team will try to qualify for participation in the AMTA national tournament.

Directed by Bruce Allen Murphy, Lafayette’s Fred Morgan Kirby Professor of Civil Rights, the team is made up of ten first-year students, Megan Cottrell of Doylestown, Pa., Katie Crisafulli (Flemington, N.J.), Seanna Dyer (Portland, Maine), Colin Feehan (Hopewell Junction, N.Y.), Brian Heyesey (Hightstown, N.J.), Cherish O’Donnell (Toms River, N.J.), Kimberly Posocco (Scranton, Pa.), Sarah Rosenzweig (Columbia, S.C.), Sarah Stocker (Harrison, N.Y.), and Robin Yudkovitz (Westfield, N.J.).

The students have been coached by Gil Ozir, a 1996 Lafayette graduate who attended New York University Law School, and Carol Wright, the prelaw adviser at Lafayette.

Lafayette will be among 16 schools in Pennsylvania, New York, and Rhode Island entering a total of 24 teams in the competition at Princeton. Lafayette, Cedar Crest, Columbia, Elizabethtown, Fordham, Penn State-Altoona, Penn State-University Park, Pittsburgh, Saint Vincent, St. John’s, and Swarthmore will enter one team each. New York University and the University of Pennsylvania will field two teams apiece, while Brown, Penn State-Harrisburg, and Princeton each will bring three teams.

The ATMA was founded in 1985 to give undergraduate students an opportunity to learn first-hand about the work of trial attorneys, understand the judicial system, develop critical thinking, and enhance communication skills. The Princeton contest will be one of 16 regional tourneys around the nation, with top performers advancing to AMTA’s National Tournament (formerly called the Silver Flight Tournament) in St. Paul, Minn., March 31 through April 2. The top four teams in this National Tournament are eligible to participate in the National Championship Tournament April 14-16 in Des Moines, Iowa.

Mock Trial is a simulation of a “bench trial” (that is, a trial before a single judge) based on a hypothetical legal case using three attorneys and three witnesses per side. This year’s AMTA case concerns the accusation of “Ruel Ellis” a ne’er-do-well bricklayer, of murdering his best friend Cony Webber.

Complicating the situation, Murphy says, is the fact that “it’s not entirely clear that Cony is dead. The two men were seen fighting after one of their many sessions at the local bar, with Ruel alleged to be swinging a shovel, and then Cony disappeared. A pile of human bones was discovered in a river bed some six weeks later, and while the markings on the traumatized bones appear to fit perfectly with a shovel later found in an alley behind Ruel’s house, they are not clothed the same way as Cony had been on that fateful night.”

“We’ll be competing in one of the toughest regions in the nation, which includes four Ivy League universities, but all participating schools are on equal footing,” Murphy explains. “Mock Trial puts a premium on the ability of competitors to use their creativity, intelligence, reasoning ability, and persuasive speaking skills to adjust as a team to varying circumstances in the trial.

“Team members are scored not on the basis of whether the trial is won or lost, but how successfully each fills his or her role as attorney or witness,” Murphy explains.

To prepare for the regional tournament, Lafayette’s team scrimmaged against a team from Middle Tennessee State University, one of the best teams in the nation, via videoconference on Feb. 3 and traveled to Harrisburg, Pa., to scrimmage against teams from Penn State University at Altoona and Penn State University at Harrisburg on Feb. 6.

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