Law student rekindles family cold case for Quinnipiac Criminal Justice Trail Advocacy Competition

December 13, 2023

The outside of Quinnipiac's Law School during sunset.

The unsolved murder of her great aunt motivated Mia Bonadies, JD ’24, to write the compelling fact pattern for the Quinnipiac University Criminal Justice Trial Advocacy Competition, held earlier this semester.

Bonadies rekindled the 2010 cold case of Joan Curello-Davis as the focus of the 2023 competition. The annual contest is sponsored by Quinnipiac School of Law and the Criminal Justice Section of the American Bar Association.

Opening rounds took place at New Haven Superior Court, followed by semi-finals and the final mock trial at the School of Law on the North Haven Campus. In all, teams from 14 law schools from across the country came together with the goal of finding justice for her great aunt, said Bonadies. Quinnipiac’s team proceeded to the quarter-finals.

“Quinnipiac’s mock trial program is very well known across the country, and we have a high reputation as being a really competitive team,” said Bonadies, a 2022 team member.

As an executive board member of the Quinnipiac School of Law Mock Trial Society, Bonadies spent this past summer writing the criminal pattern for this year’s competition.

However, her first consideration was not exploring her great aunt’s murder. Following the lead of past fact patterns, which have incorporated realistic evidence blended with fictitious scenarios, Bonadies initially floated the idea of a “whodunnit” on cruise ship.

“I was talking to my family about it, when I said, ‘Wait — what if we make it about Joan?’” said Bonadies. “She was such a figure in our family and this story has been so prominent in our family. I never met Joan, who was my dad’s aunt. She had kind of divorced herself from our family. We hadn’t heard from her in years, until we got a call that she was killed.”

With her family’s support, and some critical help from her uncle, Bonadies got to work.

“The only connection she really had was with my uncle,” said Bonadies. “A lot of the evidence in the actual fact pattern was real, because my uncle brought me a huge box he had with evidence from the scene at her house, and from talking to the police.”

Authentic photos, Curello-Davis’ death certificate, and crime scene details such as a footprint found in a sink were entered into evidence.

Also, as the case had gone cold, Bonadies had to generate a realistic murder suspect. Exploring her great aunt’s past for clues, Bonadies found a connection.

“She was very involved in town politics. There was a lot of town corruption, and at her wake, someone on the Town Council came up to my uncle and said, ‘Joan hit a beehive,’” said Bonadies.

Bonadies brought those details to School of Law faculty and QUSL Mock Trial coaches Ryan O’Neill and Sean McGuiness, who helped her to zero in on a defendant. Bonadies is grateful to both for their dedicated coaching and support.

Bonadies said QUSL Mock Trial Society president Samantha Morton, JD ’24, deserves special acknowledgment for her “…unwavering commitment, attending every meeting, and contributing a multitude of creative ideas.”

“I would also like to extend my heartfelt thanks to Samantha Murdock JD ’24, the driving force behind the entire weekend's organization,” said Bonadies, who worked behind the scenes with Murdock, to help keep the competition running.

On October 29, when the final mock trial teams gave arguments before the judge, Bonadies said her uncle, who was in attendance, was very moved.

“The prosecution did such a great job describing Joan that it felt real, and my uncle got emotional. After the trial, he went up to the advocate who gave the opening statement and said, ‘You nailed it,’” said Bonadies. “It felt like there was some closure. We got a trial for Joan that never happened but should have happened.”

After all competition results were tallied, Bonadies was thrilled to learn that her work had made competition history.

“It was the most even case in Quinnipiac’s trial history, which is what I wanted. I wanted a fair chance for a defense team to win or a prosecution team to win,” said Bonadies. “I was really proud of it.”

In the final round, the prosecution team won, convicting the defendant.

Upon earning her JD in May 2024 and passing the bar exam in July, Bonadies will join Carter Mario Law Firm of Connecticut working in personal injury law. She currently is a legal intern with the firm.

Bonadies credits the School of Law and her Quinnipiac Criminal Justice Trial Advocacy experiences with helping to build abilities she plans to carry into her career.

“Quinnipiac gives you these opportunities to be involved and to actually feel like you’re advocating in a real trial, so it’s like having a real experience,” said Bonadies. “I can use what I’m learning at school and learning in mock trial in the real world, and it totally pays off.”

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