The hypothetical scenario was this: A woman was attacked outside a bar. She did not see her assailant but she heard his voice singing a verse to a rap song he liked and she saw a figure with his build and wearing clothing he was known to wear fleeing in the direction of his car.
Those were the set of facts confronting students participating in the state Mock Trial Tournament Finals when arguing for or against the guilt of the fictitious defendant, P.J. Long, who was charged with second-degree assault. He allegedly hit Dana Malone with a tire iron, causing a gash to her head that required 15 stitches to close.
Every team in the state argues the same case throughout the regional competitions and six teams — one for each of the state’s judicial regions — move on to the state competition, which began Monday at the James T. Foley Federal Courthouse in Albany.
In the opening round Monday morning, students from Notre Dame-Bishop Gibbons School in Schenectady competed against the defense team from William Floyd High School from Long Island. The other semifinalists were Clarence High School in Erie County, Jamesville-Dewitt High School in Onondaga County, Nyack
High School in Rockland County and Townsend Harris High School in Queens County.
Senior John Ryan of Guilderland, one of the three prosecutors, said the people had to prove the “four i’s” — an injury suffered by the victim, assault with a dangerous instrument, a positive identification and an intent to cause harm. The victim testified that she accidentally bumped into Long, causing him to spill his drink on himself. This caused him to get upset and led to the attack later that evening.
Ryan said he believes the morning’s arguments went well. “I think it was pretty close, although usually I’m pretty hard on myself. I’m still very optimistic,” he said.
Ryan said the team has been practicing since January and he enjoyed the experience.
“I’ve always loved law. I’m a big ‘Law & Order’ fan,” he said.
The defense team picked apart the case, saying the people had an “identity crisis,” with too many suspects and not enough evidence. The attorneys first challenged the credibility of police officer Bobby Callahan, played by 18-year-old Schenectady senior David Knapick, saying that he had a prior history with Long, hitting him with a Taser when he made a movement toward Callahan upon being questioned in a different case. Long filed a complaint of excessive force in that case.
Much like a real trial, both sides made certain objections to lines of questioning. Ryan argued that the line of questioning was irrelevant, which the judge denied.
Knapick as Callahan said his request for a warrant to search the suspect’s car was based solely on the positive identification from the victim and the testimony of her friend and not any personal bias.
Defense attorneys also pointed out that no fingerprints were found on the tire iron.
“It was cold in March, he was probably wearing gloves,” Knapick speculated.
The defense also argued that the victim had not seen her attacker and that other people were known to wear a black leather jacket with an eagle on the back like Long wore — including his own roommate.
Melanie Anchukaitis, one of the coaches for the ND-BG team, said about 25 people are on the team but only nine were participating in this week’s tournament. In the afternoon, the team switched roles and argued for the defense. The presiding judge rates each team member on a scale of 1 to 5 on the performance of each part of the case, such as direct questioning, cross-examination, opening and closing arguments or testimony. Although she doesn’t rule on a “winner,” Judge Tracey Bannister of Erie County said she was impressed with both teams during the morning performance.
“You all hit on all of the nuances. You made the most of everything that is in this case and I have not seen anyone do that yet,” she said.
Bannister also praised the attorneys for being civil in their arguments, which also receives points.
Nevertheless, the team did not advance to the finals after Monday’s round.
Sophomore Claire Sise, 16, of Amsterdam said that issue of how tough to be is always going through her mind, especially when she is cross-examining witnesses.
“You never know how to balance being too aggressive or nice enough,” she said.
The law runs in her family as her father is a judge. She is also thinking of following in his footsteps and believed the mock trial helped.
“It was a good experience. I’m glad we worked so hard and got here and felt we held our own,” she said.
Junior Lucas Chico, 16, of Pattersonville said it helps him improve his public speaking skills. He said the toughest part about playing a witness is not knowing what he is going to be asked upon cross-examination.
Junior Veronica Krasecki, 17, said she is not planning to become a lawyer but is enjoying being on the team anyway. To get ready, she has been practicing direct and cross-examination of witnesses and studying all the affidavits in the case.
“It’s just really interesting because you get to see a trial and get to experience this without going to law school,” she said.
Other team members were Steven Baldwin, Colleen McLaughlin, Madeline St. Amour and Ryan Kanai. The other coach is Linda Neidl and the legal adviser is Kevin Burke.