Mock trial: RHS goes to nationals for the first time

A mock trial team of eight Ridgefield High School students — three witnesses, three lawyers, one who will be both, and a timekeeper — will be making their way to Hartford Thursday, May 11, to participate in the national competition for the first time in the team’s 40-year history.

The trial will have a jury of judges that will evaluate each team’s performance — more than 50 high school mock trial teams from across the country will be competing.

After winning semifinals and placing second during the state competition, the students started to get ready for the national case — a homicide similar to the Martha Moxley-Michael Skakel case in 1975.

The students are all part of the A team, composed of the mockers with the highest abilities and experience out of the high school’s three teams — A, B and C.

The case

All teams have to be prepared to defend both sides.

In this instance, it’s for Connecticut v. Wilbur — the case of college student Sigourney Porter, who was found lying dead in the bushes in “Adrian’s Landing” near a Halloween party she had attended that night.

Porter went to a prestigious institution on a scholarship and was surrounded by privileged and wealthy students.

The prime suspect is Wilbur Merritt IV, a son of a powerful family.

Merritt confesses to the crime during a ritual of a secret society, in the mock case called “Cloak and Daggers.”

“They replaced the names of Harvard and Yale and Skull and Bones with Cloak and Daggers,” said team member Meredith Karle.

For the past few weeks, the eight students have been preparing a defense and a prosecution.

“Basically we have to decide as a club — we get a lot of information,” said co-president Karena Landler.

“Our task is to synthesize into a concrete case for both the state and the defense for Wilbur Merritt.”

Best mocker

Sophomore Tarini Krishna will compete as a lawyer, a position that won her the “best mocker” title in the state.

Tarini started out as a witness when she first joined the B team, but the team’s faculty adviser, Katherine Gabbay, saw something in the sophomore and switched her role to lawyer.

Gabbay’s instincts proved correct.

“I always found it very intriguing, learning about objections and case theory, and I always wanted to do an opening statement and closing statement one day,” Tarini said.

“I wasn’t too interested in character playing. It was more difficult for me, whereas a lawyer was more my personality.”

On the witness stand

Meredith will be Tarini’s witness.

“I really like being a witness because I’m really into acting,” she said.

Tarini was promoted from the B team to the A team, after Meredith’s original lawyer fell ill.

The duo prepared their case together. Meredith will be playing the victim’s best friend.

“It’s one of my favorite parts of mock trial, working with people,” said Meredith.

“The ability to compete intellectually is something that I really value.”

Getting ready

Meredith, Tarini, and Karena, along with the rest of the team — Nicholas Baughman, Nicholas Patterson, Maxwell Cumming, Caledonia McQuilkin, Byron Sleight, and Sebastian Guccione — have been meeting with Gabbay three times a week in preparation for nationals.

The week leading up to the competition is all about memorizing tiny details, and going over the case again and again.

“We have all our game faces on, and we’re making sure everything is perfect,” Karena told The Press last week.

Lawyers have to be ready to call out objections and question relevance when their witness is being cross-examined, and witnesses need to intimately know every aspect of the case and how to use it to their advantage — even if incriminating questions are posed by opposing lawyers.

Each team gives the case its own spin.

“It’ll be interesting to see how every single team takes the case,” said Tarini.

“Seeing how other people approach the exact same material is fascinating and a challenge you have to deal with if you’re against them,” Karena added.