Students prepare for national mock trial competition
April 1, 2002
KALAMAZOO -- When Ashley Thornhill was accused of killing her advertising executive boss, a group of Western Michigan University students had to prepare to prosecute and defend her. And they were so good at it, they will now do it on a national level.
The students, members of WMU's mock trial team, took second place in the American Mock Trial Association regional competition in February at the University of Notre Dame. The team bested more than 15 other teams from Michigan, Indiana and Illinois, qualifying them for the AMTA's national competition April 3 through 6 in Des Moines, Iowa.
In addition, two WMU team members earned individual awards at the regional competition. Junior Kevin Wordelman earned the Outstanding Attorney Award, while senior Andrea Smalley garnered the Outstanding Witness Award.
Not bad for a team that is competing for only its third year.
"Our coaches were amazed," says team member Rebecca Blinn. "We spent fall semester preparing and practicing. It really requires a big time commitment, but the experience you get is invaluable."
WMU political science faculty members Ashlyn Kuersten and Peter Renstrom coach the team with help from Kalamazoo attorneys James Geary and Mark Rainwater.
For the competitions, teams are provided with a case by the AMTA for which the students develop prosecution and defense theories and witness portrayals. The teams have to prepare both sides to the case, as they won't know until minutes before the competition which side they'll argue. This year's case focuses on Thornhill, an advertising associate, accused of murdering her boss, Wendell Tucker.
"The way the case is written, it could go either way," says Blinn. "There is no obvious conclusion and it's meant to be very neutral. It takes a lot of preparation."
That preparation includes not only learning the laws and statutes in the fictional State of the Midlands, but also requires those acting as witnesses to memorize affidavits and be able to convincingly testify to them during examination and cross examination proceedings. The team members assume the roles of lawyers and witnesses and in their preparation, each becomes familiar with the ins and outs of the case.
The cost for the team to make the trip to Des Moines will run about $3,600 and team members are currently seeking donations to offset expenses. They already have received support from WMU's Department of Political Science, the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, the offices of the President and the Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs, and the Lee Honors College. Support also has come from attorneys with Varnum, Rittering Schmidt and Howlett; Miller, Canfield, Paddock and Stone; and Howard and Howard.
For information on the mock trial team or to contribute for their trip to the national competition, contact Kuersten by phone at (269) 387-5690 or Renstrom at (269) 387-5697.
Mock Trial Team Members
Rebecca A. Blinn of Portage, Mich., is a sophomore majoring in political science and psychology and the daughter of James Blinn and Lisa Sisley-Blinn.
Christina M. Bounds of Lexington, Mich., is a junior majoring in political science with a public law concentration. She is the daughter of Daniel and Iris Bounds of Springfield, Mo.
Andrea J. Brennan of Breckenridge, Mich., is a senior majoring in political science and Spanish, and is the team's captain. She is the daughter of Scott D. Brennan and Melanie K. Swanchara.
Corinne T. Fosdick of Williamsburg, Mich., is a junior majoring in political science with a public law concentration. She is the daughter of William E. and Maureen T. Fosdick.
Tracy Hall of Milford, Mich., is a senior majoring in criminal justice and political science and is the daughter of Vicki Hutchinson.
Joseph R. Hawver of Dearbirn, Mich., is a senior majoring in political science with a public law concentration and the son of Barry E. Hawver and Ann Marie Brooks.
Aaron Kyle Mitchell of Edwardsburg, Mich., is a junior majoring in criminal justice and political science and the son of William K. and Pattie J. Mitchell.
Jarrett R. Morley of Rochester Hills, Mich., is a senior majoring in political science with a public law concentration. He is the son of Darrell L. Morley of Grosse Pointe Woods and Shelley L. Morley of Farmington Hills.
Paul Santi of Clinton Township, Mich., is a sophomore majoring in political science with a public law concentration. He is the son of Christina Santi and the late Pier Santi.
Andrea M. Smalley of Berrien Springs, Mich., is a senior majoring in political science with an emphasis in international and comparative politics. She garnered the Outstanding Witness Award at the American Mock Trial Association regional competition. She is the daughter of Mary B. and Mark A. Smalley.
Delores Ward of Clinton Township, Mich., is a sophomore majoring in political science with a public law concentration. She is the daughter of Diana Hurlbert and John Ward.
Kevin B. Wordelman of Bowling Green, Ohio, is a junior majoring in political science. He received the Outstanding Attorney Award at the American Mock Trial Association regional competition. He is the son of Steven L. and Judith A. Wordelman.
Media contact: Marie Lee, 269 387-8400, firstname.lastname@example.org