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Trial team heads to nationals

MU’s mock trial team has qualified for the national tournament three years in a row.
Thursday, March 11, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 4:04 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

It was not Professor Plum in the billiard room with the candlestick this time, but rather Michael Harmon in the ice arena with a hockey stick.

Harmon, a pro hockey player, was angry in the days leading up to playoff game in which he would face rival player and rising star Tony Sturmanis, the same man he had learned was having an affair with his wife.

Tension during the game was so thick one could cut it with an ice skate blade. Sturmanis scored, and Harmon checked him into the glass. When Sturmanis came after him, Harmon could control his rage no longer. In an explosion of fury, he swung his stick at Sturmanis’ head. The young star collapsed, and his head smashed into the ice. He was later pronounced dead.

Harmon was indicted on suspicion of homicide, setting the stage for “State of Midlands v. Michael W. Harmon,” one of the most dramatic court cases since the O.J. Simpson trial.

The case, however, is entirely fictional, created by the American Mock Trial Association for college mock-trial teams across the country. An MU team of six students has earned the right to try the case in the National Intercollegiate Mock Trial Tournament this weekend at Eastern Kentucky University in Richmond.

The Mizzou Mock Trial Association splits into two teams during competition season. One of these teams placed ninth among 15 teams at the regional contest three weeks ago, earning the trip to Kentucky.

“We’ve got a great group of very talented people, and I’m confident going into Richmond that we’ll do very well,” said Danny French, captain of the qualifying team.

During competitions, mock attorneys and witnesses from each team act out the trial and earn scores from 1 (terrible) to 10 (excellent). The team with the highest total score wins.

Practices for the MU students have increased in length and number as a result of the upcoming contest. The team develops and practices direct and cross examinations of witnesses, opening statements, closing arguments, witness affidavits and evidence analysis.

This is the third year in a row that the MU team has qualified for nationals. More than 40 teams will participate in two divisions at the Kentucky contest. The top five teams from each division qualify for the National Championship Tournament in Des Moines, Iowa, from April 2 to 4.

“I’d say our chances are pretty good,” said Chris Fiedler, one of the six MU students going to the national tournament. The other five are French, Pranita Katwa, Bill Snead, Ryan Kuse and Phil Becker.

Angela DiRisio, captain of the MU team that didn’t qualify for the tournament, said a mock trial “helps you to think on your feet and develop skills like public speaking.”

French compared presenting a strong case to doing well in a sport.

“I enjoy it because I love competition,” he said. “I want to be an attorney in the future, so it’s a great experience.”


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