Top Mock opens doors for students in South Pacific
For high school mock trial enthusiasts, there are ample summer options for sharpening trial advocacy skills. On the clutch of tiny South Pacific islands and atolls of American Samoa, not so much. That’s why Kaylla Turituri, a teacher at Faga’itua High School in Pago Pago, crafted a successful proposal to the U.S. Territory’s Department of Education to secure funding for two students to participate in Furman University’s Top Mock, a weeklong program that imparts advanced trial advocacy know-how and a whole lot more.
This year, Top Mock drew 30 students from 10 high schools across the nation, plus the American Samoans. The program launched in 2001 as part of the Furman Summer Scholars program and has grown into one of the country’s most established.
COVID-19 arrived just this year in American Samoa and derailed mock trial there. So, competing in Top Mock was an opportunity to give rising junior Jadelynn Siamu and rising senior Dorrin Tuisamatatele an introduction to the rigor of American mock trial, Turituri explained. “Bringing them here opens up so many doors,” she said.
When she received her Top Mock acceptance letter, Siamu said, “I was over the moon because I was coming to South Carolina. I’ve never been anywhere outside of American Samoa except for Hawaii. I was obviously excited to meet new people, and I also want to be the next generation of my family to enter into law.”
Siamu learned how demanding American mock trial is and picked up other nuances of the courtroom simulation.
“I learned that you need to put yourself into character to express how your character is feeling,” she said, noting training from Jason Adkins, Furman adjunct professor of theatre.
For Tuisamatatele and Siamu, both newcomers to competitive mock trial, Top Mock was almost overwhelming. But Tuisamatatele called the experience “amazing” and said her fondest memories were the moments of respite between lectures and meetings.
“I enjoyed our little break sessions walking around campus just to get rid of the nerves before we went back into our team meetings,” she said.
Armed throughout the week with new skills in evidentiary rules, crafting direct and cross examinations, and strategies for developing witness portrayals, six teams battled it out Saturday, July 16, at the Carroll A. Campbell Federal Courthouse in downtown Greenville. The case materials mirrored those used at college mock trial tournament Trial by Combat, featuring a murder case involving a mob boss and a victim in the witness protection program. In a new twist to the lawsuit, students argued a pre-trial motion to suppress testimony of an FBI witness.
“It was an absolute delight to be back in person for Top Mock and to stage this competition in the federal courthouse, something we had not been able to do since 2019,” said Glen Halva-Neubauer, the Dana Professor of Politics and International Affairs and faculty administrator for Top Mock. “For many of the students, this was the first time they had done an in-person trial.”
“We’ve welcomed international students before, but hosting the American Samoans was fundamentally different,” said Halva-Neubauer, who first made contact with Turituri in 2021. “Kaylla, Jade and Dorrin were exemplary representatives of American Samoa with their warmth, intellect and commitment to excellence.”
After the trials wrapped and students returned to campus, awards were presented for best defense and prosecution attorneys and witnesses. And while it wasn’t Faga’itua High School’s night, Turituri was no less proud. Overcome with emotion at the prospect of reconnecting with many stateside family members, and for the accomplishments of her students, she said, “They worked so hard, I am super proud of these girls.”