The Huntington High School mock trial team is headed to the Suffolk Sweet 16 after nipping host Half Hollow Hills West in a close battle for courtroom supremacy.
Ninth seeded Huntington will represent the defense against No. 8 Miller Place on Wednesday at the Cohalan Court Complex in Central Islip. Barring an upset, the winner will move on to face No. 1 Ward Melville.
The trial team’s third win in four tries was a legitimate thriller. Local attorneys and Huntington High School alums Xavier Palacios and Jack Piana serve as the team’s legal advisors. Teacher Suzie Biagi is the faculty advisor.
“The team performed professionally,” said sophomore Rory Bocelli, who plays the part of polygraph expert Sam Perkins. The Huntington team members have been working for hours each week on their roles. Messrs. Palacios and Piana have been impressed with just how far the team has come in the past two months.
High school teams across the state have been squaring off against each other weekly this winter. Sponsored by the New York State Bar Association, the 2017 mock trial competition is being waged over the case of “Robin Berkman v. County of Dover.”
“In this civil case, a convenience store was robbed and the store clerk was shot,” according to the NYSBA website. “Witnesses identified the suspect by only the name ‘Robin.’ The detective who investigated the crime focused on Robin Berkman as the prime suspect. Robin was eventually arrested and charged with the robbery and murder of the store clerk. After a trial by jury, Robin was found guilty and sent to state prison. Robin, who always denied committing the crime, contacted the Actual Innocence Association while in prison. The AIA reviewed the case and, convinced that Robin was innocent, asked the district attorney to reopen the case. The DA’s office did so and found that another person who was confined to another state prison had confessed to committing the robbery and murder. Robin was exonerated and released from prison. Robin subsequently filed a lawsuit for malicious prosecution against the county and its agents, stating that Detective Smith, who had originally investigated the robbery/murder, did not pursue any other suspects and focused solely on Robin as the perpetrator of the crime. Robin is seeking monetary damages for the malicious prosecution.”
Huntington’s lineup is pretty impressive. Attorney Dan Brown got the most recent trial started with some courtroom preliminaries before the judge. Attorney Abby Bellistri followed with a strong opening statement on behalf of the plaintiff. Melissa Lopez played the part of plaintiff witness Kelly Connoly to perfection. She was prepped and ready to answer very tough cross examination questions.
As the trial progressed, Riley Tucker took the stand as plaintiff witness Dr. Randy Corbett. The teenager expressed his “expert” opinion in a flawless manner. The plaintiff’s last witness, Robin Berkman was played by Claudia Villatoro, who was quick on her feet as she dodged cross examination questions fired in rapid succession and held her ground. The testimony helped to ultimately convince the judge that this was, indeed, a malicious prosecution.
As Hills West called its defense witnesses to the stand, Huntington’s attorneys wasted little time exposing the flaws in the opposition’s arguments.
Team captain Max Robins gave a powerful closing statement that summed up the plaintiff’s key arguments. Mr. Robins’ articulate and convincing presentation clinched the courtroom victory.
“The team struck with full force and presented amazing evidence and objections,” said freshman John Panos, who plays the part of an attorney for the plaintiff who questions Dr. Randy Corbett.
The Huntington team members are all pulling for each other each time they step inside the courtroom. It has truly been a team effort.
“Everyone performed with flying colors in the courtroom and I can’t wait to present our case at the Cohalan Court Complex,” said freshman Paul Katigbak, who plays the part of a police detective. “We are all really thrilled.”
The courtroom warriors can’t wait for their next match. “I’m excited, but so nervous because the competition keeps getting more intense,” said Ms. Villatoro, another talented freshman. “It will be stressful, but I’m so happy.”
With a 3-1 record, the season is going well for Huntington. “I am so excited that we have made it this far and I want to go all the way,” Ms. Bellistri said. “It is going to be a lot more hard work and late nights, but it’s definitely worth it.”