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Hudson Mock Trial Successfully Defends Murder Confession at Regional Championship

UPublish story by Maureen Sheridan

Hudson mock trial team
Hudson Mock Trial team, with The Honorable Tom Teodosio presiding, Re: the Right of Due Process of Law for the Criminally Accused. (Summit County Court of Common Pleas, December, 2012). Photo Courtesy of Heather McConnel-Burne.

A school janitor is dead, and Defendant Dakota Allen confesses, “I did it, I did it!”

In the high-stakes world of criminal defense, no other case presents a bigger challenge to defend, or offers intenser courtroom drama. Hudson Mock Trial (HMT) revels in this stress.

“HMT performs best when the odds are against us,” said Coach, Hudson Alumna and Attorney Sarah Hulburt. “A sense of complete adrenaline takes over, and the Courtroom becomes our battlegrounds.”

Defense counsel, manned by veteran and team Captain John Douglass, and three-time Best Attorney Winner Carolyn Turkaly, rode this tide of adrenaline in a blow-out of the State of Ohio, played by powerhouse Massillion Jackson, in the Northeast Ohio Regional Championship, held at the Summit County Court of Common Pleas. The three-judge panel unanimously ruled in favor of the Defense and selected Turkaly as Best Attorney.

“Defendant Allen, 15, was interrogated by police for over seven hours, without an attorney or Miranda rights,” said Hulburt. “This clearly violates his right against Self-Incrimination, and Due Process of Law.”

The heated-trial saw countless objections from Massillion-Jackson, with the presiding Judge overruling the opponent in all but one.

“The Rules of Evidence are something we know extremely well, because we've worked closely on them with the Summit County Common Pleas Judges [see photos] and can respond to accordingly,” said Hulburt. “The State’s overuse of objections showed poor strategy, because they should have used cross-examination as a way to go after the testimony.”

Instead of breaking HMT’s rhythm, the objections stirred up the intensity in the Courtroom, as the galley of spectators looked onward. At one point, the Judges became clearly annoyed at the State’s tactics, and chastised the opposition’s coach.

“Douglass and Turkaly held their composure, despite the opponent’s desperate attempts to break the flow,” said Hulburt. “This really speaks to their skills under pressure.”

Instead of relying on frivolous objections, HMT wielded a far more powerful approach: searing cross-examination of the State’s witnesses, including Detective Sam O’Leary, the officer responsible for the breakdown in police conduct, and an under-qualified forensic expert. Defense counsel received near-perfect cross-examination scores.

“The ability to cross-examine, to confront the accusers, is fundamental in a criminal trial,” said Hulburt. “Douglass and Turkaly are true experts in ferreting out the falsehoods and biases of a witness.”

After the State rested its case, HMT called two-time Best Witness Winner Michael Spaans, an expert in proper police protocol, and Bridget Sciscento, a forensic psychiatrist skilled in false confessions. Both witnesses provided prolific in their support of the Defense’s theory of the case, and impenetrable to the State’s cross-examination.

“Spaans testified that, basically, that the arresting cop disregarded all proper police procedure, which was important to our theory that the confession was coerced,” said Hulburt.

“Sciscento, as a forensic psychiatrist, was absolutely spot-on in her analysis that young defendant’s often falsely confess when placed under extremely stressful police tactics.”

The witnesses, besides reinforcing Defense counsel, fatigued the opponents going into closing arguments. Attorney Douglass conducted closing for HMT, in memorable fashion.

“The opponents jabbed a lot at us throughout the trial, but as the Defense, we have the last word,” said Hulburt. “And our last word, from our team captain, was undoubtedly, a knock-out.”

HMT continues its season, culminating with a team banquet in May, and a jury trial in June.

"We really want to demonstrate to our Summit County Judges, to our Hudson citizens, and to our School, that they have taught us well - and that we are prepared to face any challenge head-on."

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