Deborah Hess was fired up about her students' courtroom performance during a mock trial competition at the York County Judicial Center.

"They were in control," said Hess, the teacher-coach for the York Catholic High School law team. "They knew what to do. They had their game faces on. They worked hard, and it shows."

The six-member team got the winning verdict during the competition Monday, where they engaged in courtroom battle with six students from West York High School.

The competition is held by the Pennsylvania Bar Association's Young Lawyers Division. Local participating high school students are from Central York, Kennard-Dale, Northern, Red Lion, Spring Grove, West York, York Catholic, and Littlestown in Adams County.

They are among 272 high schools with 327 teams competing in the district-level competition across the state, according to a news release from the York County Bar Association.

Hess said the team will go up against Spring Grove at 7:15 p.m. next Monday at the judicial center.

Annie Stover, a senior and defense attorney for the York Catholic team, said she was nervous before Monday's mock trial. This was her third year competing with the team.

"The first year, I was a complete wreck, but I'm so much better now," she said. "I'm more confident. There's something about getting (dressed) for court. Once you put on the suit, you feel powerful."

Jon Ellis, a senior and lead prosecuting attorney for West York's team, said his four years of competition participation have changed him.

"I'm more outgoing," he said. "I can step out and say what I need to say. It helped me with public speaking, and it will help me in the future. I want to start a culinary business, so it will help me when it comes to getting legal advice."

Help: The two teams tried a hypothetical case before a jury of lawyers and legal assistants from CGA Law Firm in York City to determine whether the developer of an urban renewal project was responsible for a crane collapse that killed two people.

Hearing the case was York County Common Pleas Judge John S. Kennedy.

The case: The West York team were the prosecutors who charged the developer with third-degree murder, contending the developer was acting with malice when she ignored severe windy weather conditions, overworked employees and disregarded safety risks resulting in the deaths.

York Catholic's team defended the developer, saying she had no intention of killing anyone and the deaths were not the result of her

decisions to have the crane move construction material. They also contended the crane collapse could have been the fault of an angry tenant -- also a former military-trained engineer -- who fought against the project, as it involved the removal of a building he lived in.

The jury sided with York Catholic's team. Kennedy opted not to disclose who he thought won the case.

However, he did commend the students on how well they explained the legal definition of malice and how it applied to the case.

The district level competitions will continue through March with 12 teams advancing to the statewide mock trial championships, to be held March 22 and 23 in Harrisburg.

The winner will represent the state at the national mock trial finals in late spring in Indianapolis, according to the York County Bar Association.

--Reach Eyana Adah McMillan at emcmillan@yorkdispatch.com.