Lee students learn the sport of court during mock trial
LEE -- Sadie Clouser isn't really a lawyer, she just plays one for the Lee Middle and High School mock trial team.
The junior was the lead prosecutor in Tuesday's pretend murder trial, staged in the former courtroom at Lee Town Hall.
She delivered the opening argument and conducted the cross-examination of the defendant accused of poisoning to death his wealthy, 91-year-old great-aunt.
The case was fictitious, but Clouser still felt real pressure to win a conviction.
"It had that level of stress," she said. "If you don't know your facts, your case is moot."
While Lee High attempted to put alleged murderer "Paul Breedy" behind bars, the mock trial team from Westfield High School successfully proved to the presiding judge he wasn't guilty. The battle of legal wits was part of the annual mock trial competition for dozens of schools across the state.
As in high school athletics, mock trial has a regular season, with top teams advancing to regional tournaments followed by a state championship in March.
Every school prepares for the same case, developed by the Massachusetts Bar Association, which sponsors the program. This is the 28th year of the association's High School Mock Trial Program, which benefits students by introducing them to the legal system and as an educational experience.
Each team has teacher advisers, assisted by actual lawyers, who help the students prepare for their day in court as either the attorneys or witnesses for the prosecution and defense.
Lee High co-adviser Keri Wade said her team is fortunate to have Berkshire County First Assistant District Attorney Paul Caccaviello on their side.
"He knows exactly what direction we should go with the case," Wade said.
Massachusetts Bar Association attorneys also preside over the mock trials and score the competition as well as render a verdict.
Each attorney and witness is awarded points based on their performance, according to mock trial rules. The team with the most points wins.
"Judge" Gregory Wolf, a Pittsfield attorney, declared Westfield the winner, but felt both teams handled themselves well in a court of law.
"You both get bonus points for professionalism," Wolf told them. "You all did a professional job and the witnesses were amazing in their preparation."
Lee High freshman Emily Donovan was the prosecution's medical examiner, coming across every bit as convincing as those portrayed on "CSI," "Law & Order" and other television crime dramas.
Donovan was most adept at espousing medical terms -- without hesitation -- on the witness stand.
"I also prepared by asking my mom a lot about medicines involved as she's a nurse," she said.
Next week, Lee High will take a turn at being the defense team for "Paul Breedy" versus another Western Massachusetts high school.
The preparation will include some pointers learned from watching Westfield High's mock trial team.
"They gave us some ideas on how to handle the case," said Lee High co-adviser Josh Hall.
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