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Ohio Mock Trial Competition tackles case ripped from Serial podcast

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Photo: Magistrate Keith Brenstuhl, Attorney Tom Erb and Judge Jennifer Hensal listen to two teams presenting a mock trial Friday during the 35th annual Ohio Mock Trial Competition held at the Medina County Courthouse, 93 Public Square. NATHAN HAVENNER / GAZETTE


MEDINA — Six teams from three Medina County school districts competed at the 35th annual Ohio Mock Trial Competition on Friday for a chance to advance to the regional competition next month.

Students competing in the competition held at the Medina County Courthouse, 93 Public Square, are given a fictional court case to study, and serve as either the defense or prosecution in a mock courtroom trial.

Teams compete in two rounds, and must win in both prosecution and defense to advance.

Inspired by the podcast Serial, the case asked students to review the fictional 1999 murder of Trillium High School student Hayley Leigh by her ex-boyfriend Adam Smith.

In the case, Smith filed a petition for a new trial on the basis that his counsel was ineffective. The basis of the hearing was whether or not the outcome of Smith’s case would have been different if the counsel had not been ineffective, as Smith claimed.

Each team’s performance was scored by a panel of judges. The court cases were held in the courtrooms of Common Pleas Judges Christopher Collier and Joyce Kimbler and Probate/Juvenile Judge Kevin Dunn.

The event, hosted by the Ohio Center For Law-Related Education, brings together more than 3,000 students in 24 counties statewide.

Buckeye High School student Abby Birchenough was competing with the Buckeye Orange team, one of two teams from her school.

“I really like it,” Birchenough said. “It is a good experience because you get used to the court, you learn how it works and you get used to public speaking.”

Cloverleaf team instructor Craig Farrar said all of the teams receive an information packet with details about the case at the end of September, and then begin studying it.

“They break the case down, they figure out what the points of law are and then they look at the process of a civil trial and what needs to be presented to prove or disprove those points of law,” he said.

Cloverleaf and Brecksville high schools also had two teams competing Friday.

Ninth District Court of Appeals Judge Jennifer Hensal said she has judged the competition for 10 years, dating back to when she was still an attorney.

“These kids are usually very well-prepared,” Hensal said. “We understand that as high school students this can be a difficult and nerve-wracking exercise for them.”

After each team competes in two mock trials, the scores are tallied and then Ohio Center For Law-Related Education district coordinator, Andrew Parker, meets with the teams’ instructors to inform them who will advance to the regional competition.

Parker said a team from Brunswick and Buckeye Orange will compete at the regional competition Feb. 16.

Contact reporter Nathan Havenner at (330) 721-4050 or

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