I admit it: the Grinch was acquitted of stealing Christmas presents and it happened on my watch.
He didn’t even have a defense attorney.
It was not my fault, my witnesses got confused. After all, they were only third graders, and they had not actually witnessed the theft.
You see, every year the County Attorney’s Office partners with the Worthington Police Department to give local third grade classes a tour of the Prairie Justice Center. We’ve had four tour groups so far this year and each group consists of two classes. As each group comes through, Officer Jackie Bomgaars takes one class and someone from my office takes the other and we show off our respective areas.
For our part, we take the children into the court room, and have a little mock trial. It is always more interesting to see what happens than it is to hear someone just talk about it. We try to have it be realistic, but we still tell the children how a real trial would have to be held. We tell them that in real cases a person on trial has to be there for a trial. We tell them that we are not having them swear an oath to tell the truth, because this is pretend.
On the day of my defeat, everything was going according to plan. I had already tried the Grinch once before another class, and convicted him. With the second class, I did what I usually do; I had the teachers identify two students who could be my witnesses. Then I took my witnesses out into the hall to brief them on the facts I was going to have them testify about.
I told them one of them would be a homeowner who had a nice Christmas tree with a lot of presents underneath. Our victim was home on Saturday and heard a noise in the living room. When our victim went to investigate, he found a green-faced person in a Santa suit running out with the presents. The thief’s Santa hat fell off and our victim picked it up. Our victim called the police and the second witness was the officer who came in response to the call. The officer searched the area and found a person in a Santa suit without a hat, running down the street holding presents. One of the presents is shown to the victim in court and the victim identifies it as his. The officer is shown a photo of the Grinch (who of course is not present) as the person that he arrested.
Great in theory, but on the stand they both fell apart. My witnesses went rogue. And not because of cross examination—there was no defense attorney. It was my questions they had trouble answering correctly. My victim was sure the thief had a white face (but wore a green mask). Even though a hat was found outside the victim’s house, my officer was sure the person he stopped was wearing a hat. And when he saw the picture of the Grinch, well, he wasn’t sure that was our guy. Sometimes my Grinch trial witnesses goof up a little, but they usually can take subtle hint from me and get back on track. These guys were adamant. I couldn’t budge them.
Their teacher had her head in her hands, and I am sure my mouth hung open for a sec.
But I recovered. After all, we don’t stop at just having our third grade jury give a verdict, we talk about what the evidence was that supported conviction or in this case kept them (quite correctly) from coming to a guilty verdict. The jury, usually unanimous, was in this case divided. We talked about what the evidence was and where it was lacking, and then they all trooped off to see the drug detection dog, which is always the highlight of the third grade PJC tours.
Much as I like dogs, the most memorable thing about this year’s round of third grade tours was that for the first time in our office’s history, the Grinch was honorably acquitted.