TYLA provides the witnesses for each round, and unfortunately for the GSU folks their star witness (the detective who conducted the homicide investigation) was a sweet elderly lady who couldn’t remember a single thing they told her during witness prep. Their direct examination of her dragged on and on, with counsel having to refresh the witness’s recollection repeatedly throughout. It was their very first witness too, so it not only threw them off their game for the rest of the round but also let me build my entire case off my very first cross-examination — a judicious nodding or shaking of my head, and what should have been a hostile witness gave me the exact answer I wanted without hesitation
It was a lucky break for us, but one that provided a much-needed confidence boost for the afternoon round against WFU Law. Christie and I could tell during the back-and-forth on pre-trial motions that the presiding judge was more friendly than the ones we had gotten in the two previous rounds, so we adjusted our demeanors accordingly. The WFU team did a solid job on direct and with witness prep; their detective was the most challenging for me to control out of any of the witnesses I crossed in the competition. But he could tell I wasn’t going to let him venture outside of his box, so to trip me up he started inventing facts — and did so at precisely the wrong time.
As background, you can go to the TYLA NTC website to read the fact pattern (State of Lone Star v. Robert Duffie), but essentially the only forensic evidence tying the Defendant to the crime scene was 1 latent fingerprint found on a piece of tape taken from one of the victim’s bodies. My line of questioning on cross-examination included a closing crescendo designed for maximum drama and impact — basically building up how thorough the investigation was and then pointing out all they found was that single latent print — and at the beginning of that sequence I ask if the Detective found any packaging for the tape. The answer of course is supposed to be “no”, and then I argue in closing that they found no packaging because it was the roll of tape used by the store personnel to make repairs so of course my client’s fingerprint was on it.
Well this particular detective was getting annoyed that I had kept him in the box where I wanted him for the past 7ish minutes, and doubly annoyed that the judge had been responsive to my occasional objections to his non-responsive answers. So he decides he’s going to invent facts. I ask him if he found any packaging on the roll of tape. He pauses to think, looks at me, and goes “No I didn’t. It’s my understanding from my investigation that it was the role of tape the employees used to make repairs around the store.”
I have no earthly clue how he thought that was going to trip me up, but I look at him with my jaw almost-but-not-quite on the floor. I turn to look at Christie, who looks at me like she’s not quite sure he just said what he just said but maybe he said it after all. I look at the jury members, who are giving me raised eyebrows. I look at the judge, who’s giving the witness a raised eyebrow. And in a voice that ended up cracking because I was still in total shock, I go “Well in that case sir, no further questions!”
The look on the detective’s face when he realized where I was going with it was priceless.
At that point the wheels came off for the WFU crew. Their star witness had just flamed out and their next witness had nothing substantive to add. Then we got part of their expert forensic testimony excluded on 403 grounds. Then both of our defense witnesses were phenomenal under cross-examination. Then came closing arguments, where I reminded the jury of broken promises made by the State before hammering home my “Wrong man. Wrong place. Wrong time.” theme the whole way through
It was a beginning-to-end shellacking of our own, and a fitting conclusion to our performance.
Since only the top 8 teams proceed to the semi-finals, and those top 8 get determined based on their performance on both Friday and Saturday, we learned at the banquet a couple hours ago that we didn’t score enough points to advance to the semi-finals tomorrow. But to beat 2 out of 3 teams in my very 1st competition as an advocate is a solid first step
Going to enjoy the rest of the night with my colleagues before packing up to head back to the Bull City tomorrow. It’s been a great experience, and I’m looking forward to what happens next year!
- A reference to her Barbie-like features; at first glance you’d think she was a model instead of a soon-to-be-lawyer [↩]