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Making Their Case: Seneca Valley Students Present Mock Trial

Students argue for the prosecution or the defendant before former Superior Court Judge Maureen Lally-Green.

Seneca Valley students were put on trial and had their cases reviewed Friday—and that was a good thing.

As part of their final exam, students from the high school’s “Argument” class presented a mock criminal trial to former Superior Court Judge Hon. Maureen Lally-Green, who recently was appointed to the state Board of Education.

Six students made their case for the prosecution or for the defendant before Lally-Green, who lives in Cranberry. 

Throughout January, 10 mock trials will be held, with each trial having a team of three students either prosecuting or defending the case. Each student will be arguing the same cause, according to teacher Dr. Alison Schuster.

“Although every student has access to the same witnesses and evidence, in the end, we do not expect to get the same verdict in every trial,” Schuster said. “And that’s what makes this such an eye-opening experience.”

The trial is based on Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Tatum Zillias. Seneca Valley spokeswoman Linda Andreassi said the Pennsylvania Bar Association came up with the premise and wrote the trial, which is used by high schools around the state for mock trial competitions. 

The third-degree murder trial centers around a construction accident in Philadelphia. 

“It’s not a clear-cut case,” Schuster said. “What makes this so rewarding is that the team with the better interpretation of the data and the better argument of their side will win.”

Teachers, classmates and other adults are participating in the trial as jurors, witnesses and judges. Other local judges, including U.S. District Judge Cathy Bissoon, also will preside over the cases.

Schuster said the mock trials test the students’ critical thinking abilities as well as their communication skills.

“These kids have developed a sense of professionalism they won’t learn anywhere else, but they’ll need it almost everywhere in their life after graduation,” she said. “From the workplace to relationships, what they learn in the Argument class, and especially in mock trial, will hopefully stay with them the rest of their lives. That’s certainly our goal.”

-- Information submitted by Seneca Valley School District. Have news you'd like to share with Patch readers? Email Editor Jessica Sinichak at jessica.sinichak@patch.com or visit our Pics & Clips Gallery.

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