A terrible thing happened the morning in August 2010 when Jesse Duran and Sydney Park, 11-year-old friends in the fictional town of Midlands, found a gun in Park’s home. Jesse fired the weapon and killed Sydney.
Beyond that, the facts are open to interpretation. The girls were perhaps playing a game that went awry. Or, Jesse was a neglected, gun-loving child who indulged in fantasies based on the violent video games her mother let her play excessively. The Parks arguably shirked their parental duties by leaving a gun in the home. The children were of a questionable age to be left unsupervised.
The mock trial teams of Saint Rose, Siena College and the University of Rochester floated and rebutted the various theories before actual judges last week during the inaugural Mock Trial Scrimmage hosted by Saint Rose. Acting as attorneys for the plaintiffs and for the defense, and as expert witnesses and various players in the two-family tragedy, the four mock trial squads (Rochester brought two) argued convincingly the hypothetical civil case Andy and Lee Park v. Hayden Duran.
During one exchange, Saint Rose forensic psychology major Kyle Duclos, as a plaintiff’s attorney, chiseled the words of “Mrs. Duran,” from the Rochester team, to a nub by cutting off much of what she said.
The Saint Rose team, started three years ago, has been studying Park v. Duran exhaustively since August in order to prepare for the American Mock Trial Association’s national competition that starts Thursday in Manchester, New Hampshire. Another 200 or so teams across the country have also been practicing and trying the very same case – alternating between plaintiff and defense and even changing the actual charges being brought with each thump of the gavel.
And, team members change roles. On Sunday, for example, Taylor Basford, a criminal justice student who is co-captain of the Saint Rose mock trial team, wept real tears as she testified as the mother of the dead girl.
“To be honest with you, I do find the case emotionally wrenching. It’s really sad,” said Basford, who was anything but weepy later in the day as member of the defense when the mock teams faced off for a second time in a courtroom at Albany Law School.
Last week’s scrimmage, organized by Assistant Professor of Criminal Justice Alfred Chapleau, a former prosecutor who supervises the mock trial team, was a chance to practice against equally prepared teams – and do so before actual judges. The judges kept score – something they do not do in actual trials. But they gave the exercise high points for authenticity.
“I reviewed the whole case and it is really, really involved,” said Lamont, as Albany County Court Judge Peter Lynch heard Siena and a second Rochester team argue the case across the hall. “These students seem really well prepared. A lot of the real cases I have tried are much simpler. “
In the end the four judges, who also included retired Supreme Court Judge Joseph Teresi and Magistrate Judge Christian Hummel of the U.S. District Court, Northern District, tallied their score sheets.
Saint Rose came out the winner in both of its trials. Scoring was based on students’ knowledge of the rules of evidence, their professional demeanor and handling of witnesses. Chapleau said the result was particularly encouraging given how new the Saint Rose team is. But he, like members of the team, voiced caution going into the nationals.
“We have confidence but we do have to remember it was just one school we went against,” noted Basford, a senior who plans to attend law school in the fall. “The judges will be looking at a lot of teams next weekend.”