Cadets in first-year instructor LT Samantha Reuss’ English III classes conducted a mock trial of Hester Prynne from The Scarlet Letter on October 24 and 25.
During second, fourth and fifth periods, court was “in session” in the Koster Global Media Center. Faculty and staff members served as the “judge” while cadets acted as members of the “jury.” Prior to the day of the trial, students prepared to play the part of prosecutors, defense attorneys, witnesses and defendants.
“They will be researching their roles in the trial, preparing questions for their witnesses and defendants, creating scripts and preparing,” Reuss said. “It should be a good experience and the students are putting in a great deal of work for this project.”
During fourth period on October 24, “judge” CPT John Noel called the courtroom to order. Noel swore in witnesses, asking each to “tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth so help you God or whatever higher power you believe in.”
Head prosecuting attorney Mason Kussman ’15 began the trial, calling LT Samantha Reuss (AKA townswoman) to the stand.
“How do people treat Pearl?” Kussman asked.
Reuss responded by saying that she frowns upon the child and feels that Hester Prynne’s infidelity reflects poorly on her daughter. The witness testified that only having one parent in the house probably led to a lack of discipline, displayed in acts of bullying such as throwing rocks at other townspeople.
“I tell my children not to play with Pearl,” Reuss concluded.
Other prosecution witnesses included Prynne and her father (played by cadet Jonathan Richardson ‘15.)
After the prosecution rested, the defense took the floor. Benjamin Swiger ‘14 and Alex Wilson ‘15 served as defense attorneys while Nolan Borgsmiller ’15 and Donald Canard ’15 assisted as defense team members and strategists.
Canard acted as Chillingsworth and was called to the stand.
“If Hester were to walk up to you and ask who did this to her, what would you say?” Wilson asked.
Defense members attempted to make Canard divulge the identity of Prynne’s lover, but they were unsuccessful. Canard refused to comment on the matter and was allowed to step down.
The defense next called Prynne, who was played by Borgsmiller. The defense argued that it would be in Pearl’s best interest to remain in her mother’s custody.
“Pearl is my life,” Borgsmiller said.
The defense rested, at which point the prosecution made their closing argument. Cadets reminded the jury that adultery is illegal in more than 20 states and argued that the government would be committing child neglect if the jury voted to leave Pearl in her mother’s custody.
Defense attorneys turned the prosecution’s words against them, asserting that Prynne loves and cares for her child – this is the opposite of neglect. Were Pearl to be removed from her mother’s custody, students said, the state would be essentially sanctioning child negligence.
Jury members deliberated on whether to declare Prynne “guilty” or “not guilty.” Jury members included: Edmond Biruta ‘15; Jose Garcia ‘15; Roger Gonzalez ’15; Victor Marroquin ‘15; Roel Rodriguez ’14; and Rodrigo Vilches ‘15.
The jury ultimately returned a verdict of not guilty and ordered that Pearl remain with her mother. During an After Action Review, Reuss said the jury was correct in finding Prynne innocent – the prosecution never proved that neglect happened as a result of Hester’s “A” brand.
“The goal of the mock trial was to give students an opportunity to show their understanding of the novel The Scarlet Letter. The trial was a way to differentiate the class, diverging from the typical test or essay assessments and asking for students to show their understanding through explanation, interpretation, application, perspective, empathy and self-knowledge,” Reuss said. “Many facets of understanding [are] missed in a stereotypical assessment. In my classes, I push my students to take the lead in their learning, and this is something the mock trial required them to do.”