lake and beyond
Marra Edwards ’23 scores semifinals in mock trial’s ‘best of the best’ contest
For those who make it to the big dance of mock trial, the American Mock Trial Association’s National Championship Tournament, or are eligible for AMTA competition, only 16 students have a chance to compete in Trial by Combat, a one-on-one tournament co-hosted by the law schools of Drexel University and UCLA. Furman’s Marra Edwards ’23, of Columbia, South Carolina, was among the invitees – the first Furman envoy in TBC’s five-year history.
Competitors must perform all roles – defense and prosecution attorneys and witnesses – at least once. But the trickiest part is the scant time allotted to prepare the case – 24 hours, with help from only one coach and one additional student.
Edwards, an English and Africana Studies major, made it to the semifinal round for the June 24-26 throw-down held at UCLA, where she was bested by the eventual winner.
“To gain membership in such an elite group was an honor in itself, let alone finish in fourth place,” said Furman’s Glen Halva-Neubauer, the Dana Professor of Politics and International Affairs.
The field included Yale, Stanford, Harvard, Georgia Tech, Duke, Emory, University of Virginia, Northwestern and other big-name schools.
“Having to go up against the best of the best was nerve-racking for me,” said Edwards, who leaned on second-chair Lilly Meyer ’24, a politics and international affairs and Africana studies major, and coach Spencer Richardson ’20, a history and politics and international affairs alumnus.
In the paltry amount of time earmarked, Edwards prepped arguments for the case involving a defendant accused of murdering a witness who previously claimed in open court that the defendant was a mob boss.
For Edwards, super-charged nerves were just one of the hurdles. Lack of sleep was another.
“I think adrenaline kept me running,” she said. But lack of confidence haunted her more.
“There was a moment around 9 p.m. when we tried to run through something for the first time without any notes, and I couldn’t get it. I just went to the bathroom and cried, telling myself, ‘I don’t know if I can do this.’”
But she prevailed with the help of her team.
“It was the faith people had in me that got me through,” said Edwards. “They kept reminding me they had a plan to get me to the next day.”
She was bolstered in other ways, too. Oddly, in this battle, your combatants become your allies, Edwards said.
About 15 minutes ahead of a round, mockers learn with whom they’ll be paired and against whom they’ll be sparring. So, in one round, as an attorney, you might argue against someone who would become your witness in the next round, she explained.
Supported by her fellow mockers, her team back home, coach Spencer and Meyer, Edwards is also grateful to others, including Halva-Neubauer and Edwards’ mother, Glenda Edwards, aka “Super Fan.”
“My mom hasn’t missed a single round in any competition, and I’ve been competing since sixth grade. She’s always been there for the biggest moments.”
Overall, Edwards said she discovered a bit more about herself at Trial by Combat.
“I learned to not doubt myself,” she said. “I’m a really pessimistic competitor, and I think it’s because I care so much, and I don’t want to get my hopes up too much. But if you’ve worked really hard to do something and you really want it, there’s no reason why you can’t get it.”