A woman accused of firing two shots during a road rage incident was on trial Wednesday at Warren County Courthouse.
Fortunately, it was a fictional case as high school students from Warren County and Coffee County matched their legal wits during a mock trial competition.
Students from WCHS successfully defended Leslie Lovingood in the imaginary case against prosecutors from Coffee County. By virtue of winning, WCHS advances to the 20-team state competition held later this month in Nashville.
While all the facts and characters were made up, the case is eerily realistic and played out in a real courtroom with Ryan J. Moore serving as guest judge. The story and facts were generated by state officials and distributed to all mock trial teams in Tennessee.
The case surrounded alleged actions of defendant Leslie Lovingood, accused of tailgating the driver in front of her, revving her engine in intimidating fashion, and firing two shots at Billie Baulding in the vehicle in front of her.
“I really had to think on my feet and trust my gut instincts,” said WCHS student Nicole Maneiro, who was one of three defense attorneys. “Mock trial has really been a great experience for me. It’s made me realize this is what I want to do for a living.”
Much like a regular courtroom, attorneys were free to grill witnesses and object to certain lines of questioning. Maneiro said she thinks some of her objections made a difference.
“They kept asking leading questions and I kept objecting to them,” said Maneiro. “It got to the point where they just stopped asking questions and I think that showed our dominance as a team.”
As the prosecution, Coffee County students had the burden of proof of showing a crime was committed beyond a reasonable doubt. They put a state trooper on the stand who investigated the imaginary case.
The trooper testified that it was her opinion through her photographs and investigation that Lovingood was the perpetrator. The trooper testified that there were marks on the Baulding vehicle consistent with a bullet grazing over the paint.
In addition, a 9mm handgun was found on Lovingood when she was questioned and her long criminal history was put under a microscope, including a confrontation with another law enforcement officer earlier that same day.
Lovingood took the stand in her own defense. She said she was following the vehicle so closely because it was driving 20 mph under the posted speed limit. And she had a reason for revving her engine.
“I was talking to my grandmother on the phone and I was wanting to show off my new Mustang,” said WCHS student Katelyn Brown who portrayed Lovingood.
Phone records showed Lovingood did in fact have a 44-minute conversation with her grandmother around the time in question. The grandmother, played by A.J. Jones, testified that her granddaughter wanted her to hear the engine of her new car, but maintained she heard no gunshots.
WCHS student Brennen Beaty portrayed the character of Rifle Ricky who testified on behalf of the defense as a gun expert.
“So many factors were in play. There was no clear answer, but I think it was the right call to find her not guilty,” said Beaty. “I loved playing my character. He was a smart aleck type of guy who knew everything about guns and cars which is right up my alley.”
At state competition, all teams will get to argue the same case of Leslie Lovingood from both sides. Warren County students will continue refining their arguments until state competition March 25-27 sponsored by the Tennessee Bar Association.