Senior Samhita Kumar and junior Grace Zhao confer with teammate Sanjana Anand, '22, before the Sacramento County championship final trial in March. Both Zhao and Kumar competed at Gladiator Mock Trial this summer. (Photo by Adam Akins)
Country Day students compete in national summer Mock Trial tournament
Two Country Day high schoolers competed in the elite Gladiator Mock Trial competition July 22-24 in Atlanta, Georgia.
Senior Samhita Kumar placed 15th with an honorable mention, and junior Grace Zhao placed 28th.
This was Zhao’s first year participating in this competition and Kumar’s second. Attending this competition meant that they were among the nation’s best mock trial competitors.
“Just being in the competition is quite an honor,” said Country Day Mock Trial coach Rick Lewkowitz.
This mock trial meet was different from the tournaments that the two attended throughout the school year — it was one-on-one.
Zhao and Kumar had the opportunity to prepare with others before the competition.
However, once they stepped foot in the courtroom, it was everyone for herself.
The competition was broken into four different rounds, in which the competitors took on a different role each time. They could be a prosecution witness, defense witness, prosecution attorney or a defense attorney, Lewkowitz said.
During the first two rounds, the competitors were paired up randomly, while the third round was determined based on the seeding from the first two rounds.
Scores were head-to-head, with seven categories for attorneys and three for witnesses. Competitors were evaluated on responsiveness, credibility and the strength of their performances.
Kumar won both of her attorney rounds, and Zhao scored very well on witness rounds, Lewkowitz said.
“Something that I improved on this summer and that I think I did well was being responsive to other people’s arguments,” Kumar said.
Witnesses received 15 minutes to speak with their attorneys before they testified, so practicing that skill helped improve her performance.
In addition, Zhao felt positive about her witness roles.
“There was this one witness role that I was a little hesitant about because it was like a regular character witness, and I’m not that good at acting,” Zhao said.
“But it actually turned out pretty well. I wasn’t as nervous as I thought I’d be, and that one was fine. So I’m pretty proud of how I did on that witness role.”
The hypothetical case revolved around a mob boss, Augie Shepard, who was prosecuted for murder by strangling.
Shepard was the lead suspect because the victim had previously testified in court against a fellow mob member, Shepard’s nephew, who was later incarcerated.
“That’s like a death warrant,” Lewkowitz said.
Although there was no eyewitness identification, a neighbor described the crime, as well as Shepard’s car.
However, the defense argued that there just wasn’t enough hard evidence to prove he was the murderer.
The competitors had to adapt to their different roles and prepare to both prosecute and defend. They were given three weeks for preparation, but they had to be ready to adjust to any alterations thrown their way.
“I think it really comes down to confidence in the end,” Zhao said. “You have to really walk in there and believe in yourself.”
They both matched, if not exceeded Lewkowitz’s expectations, he said.
“I was proud of both of them. I thought they competed really well in a very competitive environment,” Lewkowitz said.