Mock Trial: A Teacher’s Dream

Mock Trial: A Teacher’s Dream
Carrie Becher

“That’s the big love of your life sitting over there,” said Judge Autrey, pointing to an invisible jury. “Forget about anybody else in the courtroom.”

Imagining a live jury and an actual courtroom, students took note of Judge Autrey’s advice during a pre-season practice for mock trial, the academic team initiated this year by seniors Connor Goodman and Sean Gerty with moderator Tom Sothers.

Autrey continued, “And always remember to thank the jury for the greatest show on earth.”

Expert advice and skilled coaching from Judge Henry Autrey ’71 and attorney Stephen Ahlheim ’86 bolstered the teams’ efforts during months of practice. The team surprised everyone, including themselves, when they qualified for regionals in March, ultimately placing 11th, one spot shy of qualifying for state.

“We far exceeded any expectations that I or the coaches had back in September for a brand new rookie team,” said Mr. Sothers.

The Missouri High School Mock Trial Competition, founded in 1979 by the Bar Association of Metropolitan St. Louis, gives students first-hand exposure to the inner workings of the legal system and courtroom action. Students take on the roles of prosecutors, defense lawyers, witnesses, and defendants to try a case following actual trial rules and procedures.

“Mock trial is a teacher’s dream, and it’s a really powerful experience for the boys,” explained Mr. Sothers. “There’s a lot of critical thinking. They have to collaborate to create a strategy. They have to anticipate and create contingency plans, and in trial they have to think on their feet.”

Demanding a mastery of such diverse skills, mock trial requires dedicated students with a range of talents. De Smet Jesuit had 19 students this year representing Spartans in mock trial.

“We have lots of talents in the room, and our witnesses were outstanding,” said Mr. Sothers, grateful for theatre students who played convincing character witnesses. “That said, I think the attorneys have the much harder job. They have to be more plugged into the case.”

Junior Jackson Daesch, who played an attorney most of the season, explained how teams must prepare to argue for the defense as well as the prosecution. “You play both sides. And both sides are expected to work their hardest. Through that work and evidence and the characters, the truth will come out.”

Mr. Sothers and Jackson credited the team’s success to strong senior leadership, parent support, and professional coaching from Mr. Ahlheim and Judge Autrey. “Without their expertise it would be almost impossible to get a good gauge on what you need to do,” said Jackson. “I’m really confident about our future next year because we have great coaches.”

“We have the potential to have an incredibly great program,” concurred Mr. Sothers. “It’s a wonderful alternative to the STEM focus because it provides a lot of great academic extracurricular balance. We have really bright kids and they have great enthusiasm.”

Throughout the season, Judge Autrey stressed the importance of relaxing, being organized, and paying attention to the judge and jury in the courtroom.

“The courtroom is your space,” declared Judge Autrey. “You own it. Let everybody know it’s your space.”

No objections here, Your Honor.

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