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STUDENT ACCUSED OF ARSENIC POISONING AT PREP SCHOOL
ON TRIAL AT 2012 HIGH SCHOOL MOCK COURT COMPETITION

Months of polishing opening statements and closing arguments, sharpening rhetorical skills, and mastering the rules of evidence were finally put to the test on Friday, February 24 and Saturday, February 25, 2012 as 24 high schools competed in the 21st annual Delaware Mock Trial Court competition.

JP Judges
Howard High School of Technology participates in the 2012 Delaware Mock Trial competition.

Students tried and defended the case of an elite prep school student accused of the murder of a fellow student, president of the social club Carpe Diem. The initial cause of death – alcohol poisoning – was changed to murder when a subsequent autopsy suggested high levels of arsenic. The death occurred at a club event in which new pledges served alcohol to club members. The defendant was a new pledge.

The facts of the case focused on humiliation, jealousy, and revenge as a motive for murder. The desire to conform and fit in, the role of money and connections, hazing, the danger of underage drinking, and the subjectivity of scientific data, were all at play. Witnesses role played by the Mock Court team members included a rich student from a powerful family who coveted the role of Carpe Diem president and was publicly humiliated on many occasions by the deceased; a detective whose investigation may have been influenced by ties to wealthy families; a teacher supportive of a bright student whose position as lab assistant provided unfettered access to stored arsenic; pathologists with opposing scientific opinions as to the cause of death and personal reasons that may have impacted their scientific conclusions; and the defendant, an intelligent student from a modest background who wanted to fit in the school’s milieu.

Each school participated in four preliminary rounds and had to try all sides of the case. The two best advocates and two best witnesses were awarded gavels by the judges. A final round, late on Saturday, pitted the finalists and was judged by a panel that included Supreme Court Justice Henry duPont Ridgely.

St. Mark’s was announced as this year’s winner at the banquet held at the end of the tournament. St. Mark’s went on to compete on May 3, 2012 to May 6, 2012 at the National Championship in Albuquerque, New Mexico. They placed 22nd out of 46 championship teams that competed. Individual members of St. Mark’s team received a gavel for outstanding attorney and a gavel for outstanding witness.

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Howard High School of Technology Mock Trial participants — with gavels.

This event would not have been possible without the numerous volunteers who stepped forward to help. Overall planning for the event was spearheaded by Judge Joseph R. Slights III of the Superior Court; Jason Jowers, Esq. and Margie Touchton of Morris James LLP; Pat Quann, Executive Director of the Delaware Law Related Education Center, Inc.; Rob Hastings, Chief of Court Security for Superior Court in New Castle County; Lieutenant Lee C. Clough, Delaware Capitol Police; Mary Quinn, Director of Pro Bono for the Delaware Paralegal Association; and staff from the Administrative Office of the Courts. Participants were judged by judges, attorneys, and Widener law students who provided personal feedback to the students. Security officers, bailiffs, and court staff volunteered to help throughout the courthouse as greeters, bailiffs, and in any other capacity for which they were called. Once again, we thank all those who participated and hope to see them again next year.

For further information contact Amy.Quinlan@state.de.us.

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