Movie making at Widener Law
Public Relations - Published: June 24, 2010
A touch of Hollywood and the mystery of “whodunit?” came to the Delaware campus recently through a project conceived by Taishoff Professor of Law Thomas J. Reed.

Reed felt students in evidence classes could benefit from watching and analyzing forensic issues that accompany a real-life murder trial. Since few students have ever attended an actual trial – and those dramatized on television lack educational value – he concocted a case in his head. 

Then, he turned it into a script. Then, he launched a mini-movie.

“The whole idea is to give some context of evidence to the law students,” Reed said. 

Reed stars in the project as Macon Freeman, the chief deputy prosecutor trying to pin a murder conviction on the accused Dan Dalton, played by Ostin Warren, who is really entering his final year in the J.D./Psy.D. program

Dalton is accused of fatally stabbing his paramour, Vera Vercelli. The case has twists and turns: Vercelli once called a television talk show and described herself as a domestic violence victim, Dalton’s fingerprints are all over Vercelli’s home where her body was found – but he had lived there – and Dalton claims he was at his cousin’s house the night of the murder.

There are many familiar faces in the project. Reed tapped alumna and Delaware Volunteer Legal Services attorney Marci McNair to act as his co-prosecutor. Dalton is represented by Professor Nathaniel C. Nichols, who acts as senior public defender in the film. He is assisted by fictitious defender associate Gary Berg, a real-life staff attorney with the Veterans Law Clinic. Professor John F. Nivala is acting as the trial judge, and several students and volunteers have served as witnesses and jurors. Public Relations Officer Mary Allen posed as a "Justice TV" journalist who interviewed the attorneys before the trial opened. Even Reed’s wife, Emily, got into the act as the court reporter.

The school media services office has filmed the trial and staffer Brian Fearnbaugh will edit the footage, which was shot from June 21 to 23 in Delaware. Reed said he hopes the result will be a professional looking product that can benefit Widener evidence students and possibly students at other law schools, too. 

When asked how he was faring during a trial break, Warren, who plays the accused, said he was getting through the experience with the help of his defense counsel.

“It’s tough,” he said, “but I didn’t do it!”