A June 6 Metro article that ran in some editions gave the wrong age for Samuel Palca, a D.C. elementary school student who participated in a mock trial at the federal courthouse in Washington. He is 10, not 8. (Published 6/15/04)
To third-grader Paul Lewis's way of thinking, the prosecutor had presented a pretty weak case against the Big Bad Wolf on the charge of blowing down the houses of the Three Little Pigs.
Paul sat through 45 minutes of gripping testimony from the pigs and the wolf and thought carefully about his duty as a juror in the mock trial last week at the federal courthouse in Washington.
"I think the wolf is innocent, because straw and wood are not good things to build a house from. And I think an 8-year-old wolf cannot blow a house down on his own," said Paul, who attends Bowen Elementary School in Southwest Washington.
Eight-year-old Samuel Palca, a juror from Ben W. Murch Elementary School in Northwest, agreed that the government did not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the wolf was guilty of the crime of destroying private property.
"Me and my class voted the wolf innocent," Samuel said. "We heard no evidence the wolf was even facing the houses when he was huffing and puffing."
The trial of the Big Bad Wolf, hosted Thursday by Washington's federal judges, featured the familiar fairy tale -- with a few corny and criminal twists. About 150 second- and third-graders from eight D.C. elementary schools got a taste of the justice system by serving as jurors, deciding who was right and who was wrong.
The "case" was presented by the judges' law clerks. They acted as the prosecutor, defense attorney and even the animal witnesses, donning pink noses and furry ears to play the main parts. Presiding over the proceedings were two real judges: David S. Tatel of the U.S. Court of Appeals and Henry H. Kennedy Jr. of U.S. District Court. On any other day, they would be handling matters such as telecommunications law and drug trafficking.
The trial, an annual event sponsored by the educational organization In 2 Books in coordination with the court, hinged on critical differences in perspective.
According to all three pigs, the wolf threatened to huff and puff and blow down their playhouses if they did not let him inside.
"He scared us," testified Little Piggie No. 3. "I still have nightmares about it."
Testifying in his defense, the wolf told the jurors that the trouble took place on his birthday. He said he was frustrated that the pigs teased him and refused to play with him because he was a wolf.
"I started to huff and puff because that's what wolves do when they get upset," the wolf explained. "I just wanted to have some friends to play with."
The defense presented evidence that the straw and wood houses were unstable and could have fallen down because of wind, structural problems or the activity of the pigs bouncing around inside.
After the facts were presented, each class chose a jury foreman and began spirited talks about the case. Soon the foremen came to the well of the courthouse's huge ceremonial courtroom to announce the various decisions.
The results were mixed. Six classes voted to acquit the wolf, and two voted to convict.
"There was no evidence that there was wind on that day," said Jocelyn Penas, 8, of H.D. Cooke Elementary in Northwest.
Kennedy told the children he was impressed by the attention they paid to the facts, and he applauded their courage to state their beliefs.
"It was obvious you were listening and watching carefully," he said. "And it's not such an easy thing to stand before such a large crowd and say what you think. . . . Don't be afraid to do that."
Tatel told the students that their care in considering the case gave both judges hope about the next generation of jurors. "When you grow up and serve on a jury in a real case, I have no doubt that when the life of a real person is at stake, you'll do the right thing," he said.
In addition to Bowen, Murch and Cooke, the schools participating in the exercise were Brightwood Elementary in Northwest; Brookland, Burrville and River Terrace elementary schools in Northeast; and Harris Elementary in Southeast.
The lessons appeared to extend beyond the courtroom.
Marcelin Saint Pierre, a 7-year-old Brightwood student, said the trial taught him that it's important to be nice to others, even when they are different from you.
"All the wolf wanted was some friends to celebrate his birthday with him," he said. "You can't have a birthday without friends."
Courtney Radden, a 10-year-old River Terrace student, agreed. "He only wanted friends," Courtney said, adding that there's "nothing wrong with that."