Lawrence University’s Leila Sahar Earns “Outstanding Witness” Award at Mock Trial National Tournament

Sophomore Leila Sahar registered a perfect score en route to earning an “outstanding witness” award for Lawrence University’s mock trial team at the national tournament held March 17-19 at Hamline University in St. Paul, Minn.

Sahar, who portrayed Jordan Nathanson, a criminal profiler for the FBI, shared top point honors in the outstanding witness competition with Alex Durst of the University of Cincinnati.

She was one of six students representing Lawrence at the American Mock Trial Association’s 48-team national tournament. Lawrence, in just its second year of mock trial competition, qualified for the national tournament after placing seventh among 20 teams at the regional tournament at Marquette University in mid-February.

Lawrence competed against the University of Cincinnati, the University of Missouri-Kansas City, Western Michigan University and Iowa State University at the national tournament, finishing with 2.5 points out of a maximum of eight.

The 48-team field was divided into two divisions, with Penn State University winning Lawrence’s division and the University of Alabama-Birmingham finishing first in the other. The top three teams in each division advance to the national championship tournament April 7-9 in Des Moines, Iowa. A second 48-team national tournament was held at Stetson University in Florida.

“In mock trial competition, teams aren’t divided by school size, so Lawrence is almost always competing against much larger universities,” said John Peterson, an Appleton attorney who serves as the team’s trial coach. “The teams competing at the national tournament tend to be schools with long-standing programs which are frequently part of the academic curriculum. Lawrence really caught everyone’s attention by reaching the national tournament in just its second year of competition.

“And Leila selection for the outstanding witness award was a terrific and well-deserved individual honor for her as well,” Peterson added.

The tournament is divided into four rounds of trials with teams competing head to-head either as the prosecution or as the defense before a pair of judges. All trials are based on the same case — State of Midlands v. Tyler Perry — in which Perry is charged with kidnapping his employer’s child and chaining the child to a water pipe. The child is found three days later in good health before the requested ransom of $300,000 is paid.

Each team is responsible for presenting opening statements, examination and cross-examination of witnesses and closing statements in each round. The judges award each team points based on their courtroom decorum, which side presented a more compelling case as well as other courtroom events.

Also competing for Lawrence were senior Tim Ruberton, who portrayed a defense attorney and witness Donny Walsh, an investigator for the sheriff’s department; junior Candice Gangle, who portrayed the defendant, Tyler Perry and Ryan Reynolds, the mother of the kidnapped victim; junior Maggie Helms and senior Serene Sahar, both of whom served as prosecuting attorneys and defense lawyers; and sophomore Valerie Raedy, who played witness Frankie Gustavo, a liquor store owner. Marti Hemwall, dean of student academic services, serves as the team’s faculty advisor.