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Mock Trial Team Competes at Prestigious Empire New York

Faith Odesanya ’21 knows how to think on her feet. Part of the nearly 20-member strong O’Dowd Mock Trial team that participated in the prestigious Empire New York mock trial competition held November 16-19 at the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, Odesanya played the role of defense attorney.

“I wanted to disqualify an expert witness and I objected to opposing counsel that he shouldn’t be a witness. The judge asked me to expand, so I had to think on my feet and state why the witness should be disqualified,” she explained. In the end, the judge sustained Odesanya’s objection.

In the case United States v. Harry McCarson, the students participated in four trials – two rounds as prosecution and two rounds as defense and narrowly missed placing in the top 10. “We lost to a team by _ of 1 point on one ballot and by 2 points on another ballot. It was really close,” faculty member and mock trial coach Bonnie Sussman said.

The case revolved around timely and complex social issues. The pretrial focused on the First Amendment and hate speech, and the trial was for a federal hate crime. Get more details

Students from all grade levels participated, filling roles ranging from attorney, and witness to timer. They received the case in July and worked 8-10 hours a week preparing a prosecution and defense for the case, including reviewing 10-12 page witness statements, 25 exhibits, and case law that helped them navigate federal rules of evidence.

Serving as a witness for the prosecution, Nyla Cunningham learned to be flexible because circumstances in a courtroom can change quickly. She also enjoyed getting into character. “Being a witness it was fun to try to fit into the role and actually become that person, but also put your own twist on it,” she said.

Sussman said the experience was invaluable for the students. “They were competing against the best teams in the country as well as international teams,” she said. “The passion all these students felt for mock trial was infectious.”

O’Dowd parent and mock trial coach Bill Tarantino, who accompanied the group on the trip, said he was amazed by the students’ ability to quickly change tack. “You could see their wheels turning and sparks flying, and they would present arguments that you didn’t know they had in them. It was great to watch,” he said. “I think the experience gave them confidence and improved their ability to advocate and make their case.”

In addition to Odesanya and Cunningham, students participating at Empire included Logan Brockbank, Anna Bullock, Alexa Carera, Sophia Childs, Jalyn Davis, Emma Flood, Samantha Jones, Moriyuki Kano, Aasha Krishnan, Kyron Loggins, Alexa Low, Delanie Milsten, Owen Ramiza, Eva Reyman, McKenzie Taffe, Isabella Walters and Jordan Woods.

O’Dowd mock trial teams competed in Empire New York in 2011, winning 10th place, and Empire San Francisco in 2014 – 2017, winning some individual witness and attorney awards. The team is now preparing for the Alameda County Mock Trial competition, which will take place early next year. For more information about mock trials contact Bonnie Sussman.


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