Hillsdale Mock Trial Team 1127 (fea­tured) placed third out of 40 teams at the 31st Annual National Invi­ta­tional at Loras College. Team 1126 placed fifth out of 19 teams at Indiana Uni­versity in the final tour­nament of their invi­ta­tional season. Lucas O’Hanian | Courtesy

The Hillsdale mock trial teams per­formed well at their tour­na­ments on Jan. 26 – 27. Team 1127 placed third out of 40 teams, winning seven out of eight ballots at the 31st Annual National Invi­ta­tional at Loras College. Team 1126 placed fifth out of 19 teams at the Hoosier Hoedown at Indiana Uni­versity, the final tour­nament of their invi­ta­tional season. Team 1126 had the best invi­ta­tional season in the history of Hillsdale mock trial.

On team 1126, sophomore Julia Powell earned 20 out of the maximum 20 points for her por­trayal of Dr. Willoughby Hawkins, an expert witness for the plaintiff in this year’s American Mock Trial Asso­ci­ation test case. Sophomore Mason Aberle earned 19 points as an attorney.

On team 1127, junior Lucas O’Hanian earned a perfect score, also for playing Hawkins, while junior Andrew Simpson earned 20 points as closing attorney for the plaintiff. His per­for­mance stands out as he suf­fered a medical injury en route to the last tour­nament of the fall semester and could not compete.

“The team really stepped up to the plate at this tour­nament,” Simpson said. “They did great work.”

This year’s mock trial case tackled the issue of criminal lia­bility. In the sce­nario, Danny Kosack, who owned and trained a chim­panzee named Elias, faced civil charges after Elias maimed and killed Chris Vil­lafanna, a writer for the late-night tele­vision show Mid­lands After Dark, starring Alex Grace. The show brought Elias on set for an animal act, but Elias became uncon­trol­lable and killed Vil­lafanna. The court case cen­tered on whether Kosack bore respon­si­bility for poorly training a chim­panzee or whether the tele­vision studio failed to follow Kosack’s direction, thus relieving Kosack of lia­bility.

Powell, whose char­acter Dr. Hawkins was a pri­ma­tol­ogist, enjoyed the role of witness. “It’s acting, but at the same time, it’s not,” Powell said. “For an expert witness, you have to be very knowl­edgeable and know what you’re talking about. It’s a lot of fun because you get to be a certain char­acter and act in that way.”

Once the case is released at the beginning of the year, the mock trial team pre­pares char­acters and argu­ments for trial.

“The case is about a chim­panzee attacking someone,” Powell said. “So I’m looking into the spe­cific training and selection of that chim­panzee and whether that upheld the industry standard.”

Powell stood out by delving deeply into pri­ma­tology.

“I first try to under­stand chim­panzees in general and certain char­ac­ter­istics about them, but I’m also focused on certain types of training,” Powell said. “I’ve learned a lot about the neu­ro­logical processes that go on in the brain of a chim­panzee under­going certain types of con­di­tioning and the neural basis of that.”

Simpson, who played attorney for both the plaintiff and the defense, enjoyed directing wit­nesses as an attorney.

“If you have a good attorney-witness system, both will often throw in dif­ferent case the­ories on their plan direct,” Simpson said. “So they can trip up the other team with stuff that isn’t planned.”

Both teams are preparing for the upcoming Ypsi­lanti Regional Tour­nament at Eastern Michigan Uni­versity.