A murder was committed at RacheterWorld Amusement Park, and ride operator Whit Bowman faced prosecution for murder, robbery and theft.
A member of Bowman’s defense team, University of Mary Washington senior Colin Spangler insisted that Bowman was merely a victim of convenience while the real culprit got away.
“The prosecution cannot offer you proof (of Bowman’s guilt) because it simply does not exist,” Spangler pleaded in his closing argument of the fictional trial held at the U.S. District Courthouse in Washington, D.C. “Today it is your opportunity to tell the prosecution that someone is not better than no one when that someone, Whit Bowman, is innocent. Find Whit Bowman not guilty of all three charges.”
Spangler is among nine members of the UMW Mock Trial Team who argued both for and against Bowman’s innocence in March at the Opening Round Championship tournament sponsored by the American Mock Trial Association (AMTA). The competition enables students to participate in contrived or fake trials in order to learn skills and compete with one another. AMTA provides a problem or fictional case, and each team presents one side of the case against a team from another school, just as attorneys present real cases in real courtrooms.
The UMW team earned the coveted berth to compete against 24 select colleges after placing eighth out of 23 teams at an earlier regional tournament. Although the UMW team stopped short of advancing to the national competition next month in Florida, Spangler earned top honors as an outstanding attorney for his defense argument and as an outstanding witness in his role as a detective testifying for the prosecution in the case.
“It was truly an emotional moment to see the months of hard work and preparation pay off,” said Spangler, who also received the highest attorney honors at the regional competition. “Given the caliber of schools at the tournament, which included Penn State, University of Pennsylvania and George Washington University, I was truly amazed to have been given the award.”
“We are so very proud of Colin,” said Anna Lindemann ’10, assistant coach and co-founder of the UMW Mock Trial team. “He is a prime example of how the students can learn and improve from year to year, building their skills to become talented advocates.”
Lindemann knows from experience. Along with Ghislaine Storr Burks, she founded the team as a student in 2009. Storr Burks, a partner with the law firm of Livesay & Myers, P.C., also teaches introductory law and legal writing in the Department of Classics, Philosophy and Religion. Also on the coaching staff is Brian Boyle, an assistant commonwealth’s attorney for Prince William County. Lindemann has since graduated from Suffolk University Law School and continues to work at Livesay & Myers.
Spangler aims to follow Lindemann’s career path in law. In his second year on the team, he recently finished an internship with the Livesay & Myers and will attend the University of South Carolina law school in the fall.
“Competition in the Mock Trial program has allowed me to get as close to real life litigation experience as possible at the undergraduate level,” said Spangler, a resident of Winchester who came to UMW to run track and cross country. But a course in law his sophomore year whetted his appetite for the verbal sparring of the courtroom and inspired him to try out for the mock trial team.
“The program has enabled me to develop skills that cannot be solely taught in a classroom or found in a textbook,” said Spangler, a political science major. “I’ve gained practical skills and experience as to what a career as a trial attorney actually involves and demands.”
Interested students audition for the team in September and those selected generally practice at least 15 hours a week with the coaches preparing for the January regional competition. Students compete in a grueling four rounds over two days, where each team performs two rounds on the prosecution or plaintiff side and two rounds on the defense side. Students on each team assume the roles of the attorneys and the witnesses, and both roles are scored by judges to determine the team’s success at the tournament, said Storr Burks.
Attorneys are responsible for conducting direct and cross examinations as well as delivering opening statements and closing arguments. They must master theories for both sides of the case, plus the rules of evidence, case law and courtroom decorum, said Storr Burks. Witnesses develop their own characters and learn not only to act and represent their role, but also to withstand examination by opposing attorneys.
Competition involves critical thinking.
“You have a set of facts,” said Spangler. “You do a lot of thinking on your feet and you must be prepared for every situation.”
And that know-how has equipped Spangler for his next challenges in law school.
“The experience that the mock trial program has given me will serve as a solid foundation for the next three years of my education and in my career.”