Two H-F students win honors at state’s mock trial contest

Two Homewood-Flossmoor High School students won top honors as part of the Illinois State Bar Association’s High School Mock Trial Competition in March.
 
Gillian Vinson, a senior, and John Russell, a junior, won the “outstanding witness” honors in the competition in Springfield against 400 students. Gillian portrayed a police officer investigating the crime allegedly committed by a high school student whom John portrayed. H-F was one of 40 teams from across the state invited to participate after winning the regional competition.
 
At the regional competition, Kaylin Searles, a senior, won “most outstanding witness” honors portraying eyewitness Dakota Pope.
 
Mock trial competitions started in November. H-F team members were Jaylin Beal, Asha Dowell, Brittany Hull-Dennis, Bryan Henry, Isaac Latman, Nathan Martinez, Synia McSwine, Annie Eniola Oyefeso, John Russell, Kaylin Searles and Gillian Vinson. 
 
The bar association provides the problem to all schools. This year’s issue was whether Alex Buckley, a student at a prestigious prep high school, intentionally killed his academic rival, Carly Walsh. The two were in competition for a college scholarship. Buckley, who worked part-time at a gas station, was charged with pouring gas under Walsh’s dorm room door. The gas caught fire and Walsh died. Her friend, Dakota Pope, jumped out of the third floor window and told police she saw someone in a gas station employee uniform running from the scene with a gas can. 
 
Students get to argue twice – once for the prosecution and again for the defense.  The opposing counsel was from another school. Although H-F did not advance at state, the team’s coaches, social science teacher Libby Day and attorney Colleen Gorman, thought the students did an outstanding job.
 
  Homewood-Flossmoor High School's mock trial team
  was invited to participate in the Illinois State Bar
  Association Mock Trial Competition in March.
 
  (Provided photo)
 
For the first few training sessions and early competitions, students rotated roles so the coaches could learn what roles best suited them. After that, students learned everything about the characters they would portray. They were given a biography of the witness they’d portray, plus pieces of evidence, photos and police reports.
 
Gorman, a Cook County public defender, said the students “just read and re-read and then we would practice direct examinations and cross examinations. For the witnesses, their main goal is that they need to have the entire problem memorized to a tee.”
 
In competition, witnesses get scored “based on the facts they were given but also their ability to advance the case theory,” Gorman explained. 
 
Annie Eniola Oyefeso was a witness for the defense side, portraying a specialist in criminal investigations who had a doctorate in psychology and had been with the FBI.
 
“I had to know her affidavit so I could be a credible witness,” she said. “I prepared for four or five weeks learning her background.”
 
A few students joined the mock trial team again, but for Isaac Latman it was his first time, and at his first competition at the DuPage County Invitational, he was nominated as one of 15 outstanding attorneys, coach Day said. 
 
At state competition, Isaac took on the role of attorney again, and delivered the closing argument. In retrospect, he said he “would have thought more about what I was physically doing during my delivery” and thought to keep his volume steady. Mock trial could be good training for Latman, who hopes to become a member of the military’s judge advocate general corps.
 
Nathan Martinez, another first-time student at mock trial, served as an attorney who questioned the credibility of the witness, wondering how much she really saw after jumping from a third-floor window.
 
In addition to their courtroom presentations, the students take a written exam that is part of the mock trial score. The exam helps judges determine whether students understand the legal issues they’re arguing, Day said.

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