– The defendant on trial Wednesday in William and Mary's McGlothlin Courtroom wasn't your typical defendant. So it was only fitting that the jury present wasn't your typical collection of citizen jurors.
It was fairytale character "Goldilocks" being tried for criminal trespass and destruction of private property, and she was found guilty on one of those charges – by a jury of first- and second-graders from Providence Classical School.
In many ways, the mock fairytale trial – based on a curriculum by Frederic Lederer, chancellor professor at the William and Mary Law School – resembled actual court proceedings. The students heard witness testimony, complete with examination and cross-examination by the attorneys. They saw evidence and heard opening and closing arguments, and were given the chance to decide the defendant's fate.
"We combine multiple fairytales, elements of the modern world, elements of technology, and elements of magic – and we try to be as entertaining as possible while teaching the fundamental concepts of the legal system," Lederer said. "We hope the kids understand that there are rules, that there's a process for when people are believed to have done something wrong, and we take this very, very seriously."
The group from Providence Classical School is among the youngest groups ever to have participated in the Law School's fairytale mock trials, he said. The "court proceedings" follow a curriculum which Lederer developed in the 1980s. Goldilocks isn't the only fairytale character to find herself embroiled in legal trouble. Cinderella gets sued for defamation after publishing a book about her evil stepmother, who claims she is not evil at all; "Beauty and the Beast" is a case involving toxic pollution; and the three little pigs are accused of trying to kill the wolf, who says he is just an innocent magazine salesman.
"With our older children, we're teaching things like the burden of proof, the concept of a judge and jury, the idea that there is a dispute mechanism, complex topics like that," Lederer said. "First- and second-graders are right at the point where we hope they'll get the basics."
The students listened intently as Law School students Amy Meiburg, Darren Ziegler, and Jane Ostdiek portrayed Mama Bear, Papa Bear, and Baby Bear, respectively, and student Rose Moore played the role of Little Red Riding Hood, a witness in the case. The judge – played by Lederer – swore in each witness by saying, "Do you swear to tell the whole simulated truth and nothing but the simulated truth and to be as entertaining as is possible?"
Goldilocks, played by Janie Brittan, was facing charges of criminal trespass and destruction of private property after she allegedly entered the Bears' home, ate a meal that Mama Bear had prepared, sat in and subsequently broke a chair in the home, broke an iPad, and bought a whole bunch of coins in the game "Angry Bears." She was defended by David Noll, and Greg Marinelli played the role of prosecutor. In the end, the student-jurors found Goldilocks guilty of criminal trespass – especially when it was revealed that she had lied about wearing a wig – but she was acquitted of the second charge because the students weren't convinced it was actually Goldilocks who had destroyed their property.
Second-grader Isaac Diggs, 7, said the event was fun.
"I thought that she was guilty because if she lied about a wig, she could be lying about some other things," he said. "The iPod touch I don't think was really broken. The chair, I wasn't convinced about that, but going into the house, I'm really convinced. "
Second-grade teacher Laura Arch said the students began to understand the idea of wrongdoing during a discussion of the story of Robin Hood earlier this year.
"I do think they enjoyed it, and they really liked hearing and being good listeners for both sides of the story and trying to make their decision in the best way they know how," she said.
Simpson can be reached at 757-345-2345.