Wednesday, May 11, 2011 | 6:05 p.m.
Jurors at the Eighth Judicial District Court on Wednesday found Alexander Tommy Wolf – a.k.a. the Big Bad Wolf – not guilty of killing three little pigs.
Wolf’s attorneys clapped their hands vigorously as Wolf jumped up and smiled after the jury foreman read out the unanimous verdict to a packed courtroom of students, parents and teachers from Henderson International School.
Forty-five fourth-graders from the private primary school acted out the roles of judge, jury, plaintiff, defendant, bailiffs and attorneys in the case A. Wolf v. Z. Pig, based on the fairy tale “Three Little Pigs.” It was an emotional mock murder trial that played out Wednesday morning in courtroom 15D at the Clark County Regional Justice Center.
“That wolf over there killed my mother!” said Zelda Bacon Pig, played by 9-year-old Stephanie Castrignano, as she broke down sobbing on the witness stand. “Happy Mother's Day, Mom!”
District Court Judge Susan Johnson couldn’t stifle her laughs as she helped preside over the hour-long trial alongside 10-year-old “Judge” Brian Heuer. The mock trial was part of an effort by the Eighth Judicial District Court to raise awareness about the court system, she said.
“I love it; it’s my favorite day of the year,” Johnson said. “It’s a great learning experience ... It’s important for them to see how the court system works and learn a little bit about the third branch of government.”
Henderson International School, 1165 Sandy Ridge Ave., has been conducting mock trials at area courts for more than a decade, but this year was the first time students crafted their own scripts and trial materials, fourth-grade teacher Rosemary Johnson said.
“They were so excited,” the 17-year veteran teacher said. “They really listened carefully and took this extremely seriously. They did a great job.”
The three fourth-grade classes at Henderson International School each took on a judicial role: defense, prosecution and jury, and developed a courtroom script over the course of a month. Students adapted the court storyline from “The True Story of The Three Little Pigs,” a 1989 children’s book that retells the English fable from the wolf’s point of view.
Three local attorneys also came into the classroom to teach the students about the mechanics of the courtroom, from how to make opening and closing statements to how to directly examine a witness.
“It was fantastic,” fourth-grade teacher Kristy Littauer said. “It integrated language arts, presentation skills and social studies … this is a real-life situation that kids will probably never forget.”
Attorney Bruce Shapiro, whose 9-year-old daughter, Aspen, played a defense lawyer in the mock trial, said he initially thought the students were too young to understand the judicial process, but was surprised to find out otherwise.
“I was skeptical at first, but I was impressed with how well they did,” said Shapiro, who spent two hours with his daughter’s class prepping them for their big day in court. “It’s a different experience reading about it and actually doing it. This will have a lasting effect.”
That’s the hope for Judge Johnson, who has been holding these mock trials for three years with Henderson International School and Whitney Elementary School.
“This gives the kids a chance to interact in the courtroom (and to) learn a little bit about this building in terms of how it functions,” she said. “I hope we get a lot of lawyers out of this, a lot of them interested in becoming attorneys and learning about the law. We might also get a few judges out of this one, too.”
For "Alexander Wolf," it was an eye-opening experience.
“I was nervous, but I was glad to be the defendant,” said 10-year-old Molly Gordon. “I learned how different court was. It was bigger.”
Aspen, who represented Wolf during the proceedings, said she learned how difficult her father’s job was.
“I was nervous; I’ve never spoken in front of this many people,” she said. “Asking questions was the toughest part of the job.”