A group of South Effingham High School students gave an impressive performance in court recently — in the Georgia Mock Trial competition.
South Effingham competed in the Southeast Savannah district, which includes public and private schools in and around the Savannah area. The SEHS teams posted high scores, narrowly missing the state championship and the opportunity to compete in the National Mock Trial.
The Mock Trial Committee writes the case every year, alternating between a civil case and a criminal case. This year’s case was a murder trial, involving an altercation at a "big box" store and parking lot that led to road rage and a shooting.
The SEHS students were divided into a prosecution team and a defense team. The team began training in August and started working on this year’s case as soon as it was released statewide in October.
The students studied the entire case with a fine-tooth comb, analyzing it from all angles. The "attorneys" wrote opening and closing statements, practiced the statements and developed questions for direct questioning and cross-examining their "witnesses." They worked closely with their witnesses and practiced the cross-examination and questioning.
"A great deal of these Mock Trial students go on to become attorneys and successful businessmen, and they credit Mock Trial as a great high school experience that has helped them in life — and not to mention it is fun," said local attorney Mark Lee, who helped coach the team.
Both the prosecution and defense teams from SEHS fared well in the two-day mock trial at the Chatham County Courthouse. Brandon Cody, Liam Bendig and Alex Bowser portrayed attorneys, while "witness" Colette Snell was realistic as a frightened teenager.
The SEHS defense team had a tougher case to argue since the evidence was overwhelming. "Attorneys" Jennifer Edwards, Charles Patterson and Blake Hayes led the team.
The "witnesses" for the defense team were Connor Croasmun as a protective father, Selina Jonas as a concerned neighbor, and Justin Wilson as a police officer who had a less than pristine record but was still able to convince the jury he was a concerned and excellent officer who investigated the case according to protocol.
Cody was named Outstanding Attorney and won the Four-Year Award. Croasmun, Jonas and Wilson won Outstanding Witness Awards.
"Some of the attorneys asked Brandon Cody jokingly for his business card since he was so believable that they wanted to hire him at their firms," said SEHS Mock Trial advisor Nathalie Starling.
Also part of the SEHS team was Cathy Tseng as a court artist. Tseng submitted her court sketches to the Craig Harding Memorial Court Artist Contest, which is judged by the Savannah College of Art and Design at the regional and state level.
The Mock Trial Competition is a project of the Young Lawyers Division of the State Bar of Georgia and the Georgia Council of State Court Judges. The program began in 1983, and Starling founded the SEHS team four years ago.
Starling credited the Effingham County Bar Association with helping the SEHS Mock Trial team by taking donations that paid the Georgia Bar Association Mock Trial registration fee and the Board of Education bus transportation fee.