WC Mock Trial team vying for place in national contest|[02/20/08]

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Is “Elston Neddy” a killer?

His criminal trial will be hypothetical, but the stakes real, when students acting as attorneys and witnesses vie for his innocence or guilt in a Hinds County courtroom.

Students at Warren Central High will compete against other Mississippi teams on March 7 and 8 in the state competition for a chance to advance to the National High School Mock Trial Championship. On Feb. 2, they performed successfully in regional competition in Jackson.

Email newsletter signup

Sign up for The Vicksburg Post's free newsletters

Check which newsletters you would like to receive
  • Vicksburg News: Sent daily at 5 am
  • Vicksburg Sports: Sent daily at 10 am
  • Vicksburg Living: Sent on 15th of each month

Though it gets less notice than sports and drama clubs, mock trial challenges its participants with the tension of courtroom argument and the complexities of legal procedure. It’s fun, team members say.

Elston Neddy is not a real person, and the case is fictitious. He and other witnesses will be played by team members who must know their parts well to survive cross examination by lawyers on the other team.

“Each witness has built in inconsistencies, so the students know how to poke holes,” said Don Miller, who has advised the team since its inception in 1989.

The trials are judged a little differently from real legal proceedings — three judges award points based on arguments and presentation –but the similarities are close enough for sophomore Xiliang Zhang, who said he hopes someday to get a degree in criminal law.

“In real life, it would be much more serious,” said Zhang. “You’re making a decision on somebody’s life.”

Zhang, who recently moved to Vicksburg from Toronto, plays the role of accused killer Neddy.

“The bar leaves enough holes in the case on either side that it’s hard to say whether he’s being persecuted or whether he did it,” Miller said.

Since before the semester break, the team has prepared its case.

They will spend a Friday and Saturday at Hinds County Courthouse presenting both sides of The State of Mississippi v. Elston Neddy. The small perk of missing a day of school could be tempered by game-day jitters.

It is the 25th year of the competition organized by the Mississippi Bar Association Young Lawyers Division.

It is one of two mock trial leagues in which the school competes. The other is organized by the Magnolia Bar Association, an advocacy group of black lawyers and judges.

Several students, such as senior Michael Lanier, participate in both, and said the Magnolia Bar Association’s first competition is scheduled for March 28-29.

Warren Central has performed well in that league, and Miller said the school has won the state title two of the last five years.

But they have never won the Mississippi Bar Association’s state competition, which would give them a chance to challenge teams from other states. Last year, a team was not organized to compete in the larger league.

But at the urging of history teacher Erin Davis a team of eight and two alternates began working on the case presented for this year’s competition, which involves the reinvestigation of a murder that took place 25 years before. Neither Davis nor Miller has a background in law, but the cases are designed so that one is not required.

Though some legal prowess is necessary, acting skills are also demanded.

“You have to know what that character’s been through, what’s at stake, what his emotions are,” Zhang said of his role. “It’s a little like a dramatic part.”

The competition also strengthens public speaking skills and problem solving, Miller said.

“We’ve had new judges say that our kids performed better than first- and second-year law students.”