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Goldilocks Gets the Slammer

(News report of a mock trial for 4th graders
held by the Omaha Bar Association on Law Day,
Omaha World-Herald, 4/26/2001)

There's a reason fourth-graders aren't eligible for jury duty. They're cold. They show no mercy. Just ask Goldilocks.

After a few minutes of deliberation, 12 angry fourth-graders sent Goldilocks off to federal prison Wednesday morning.

The mock trial was part of Law Day activities sponsored by the Omaha Bar Association. You knew it was a mock trial because everybody wanted jury duty. The jury was randomly selected from students attending the event and the Roman L. Hruska U.S. Courthouse.

Senior U.S. District Judge Lyle Strom presented the charges: Goldilocks was accused of breaking and entering, theft and destruction of property.

Local defense attorney James Martin Davis took Goldilock's case, and former U.S. Attorney Tom Monaghan acted as prosecuting attorney.

Davis had his work cut out for him. The kids already knew the story. They knew that Goldilocks did it. She came into the house, she ate the soup, she broke Baby Bear's chair.

And the prosecution's witnesses--the three bears, portrayed with spirit by actors from the Omaha Theater Company for Young People--were convincing.

Using a script provided by the American Bar Association, Davis tried to turn the tables on Papa Bear: "You never saw anyone break that chair, isn't that true? You never saw anyone eat that soup, isn't that true?" Of Mama Bear he demanded, "You didn't see her do anything except sleep, isn't that right?" Goldilocks, he said, was just cold and hungry, in the wrong place at the wrong time. She never intended to break the law.

Monaghan's prosecution stuck to the fairy-tale facts. This was his first trial since leaving the U.S. Attorney's Office last week.

The jury paid attention, especially to the actors (who were much better than the legal folks at reading from a script without making it obvious that they were reading from a script). The seven boys and five girls--from Florence Elementary, Catholic Academy, and St. Paul Lutheran School--then left the courtroom.

Deliberations started slowly. When finally encouraged to talk by their Bar Association chaperone, the kids had one word to say.


It got a little Lord of the Flies in there for a moment, with a room full of 9- and 10-year-olds half chanting, "Guilty, guilty, guilty, guilty!"

In a clearly illegal effort to spur discussion, the Bar Association representative reminded the jurors about the defense's argument that Goldilocks didn't intend to break the law. "What about intent?" he asked. "Should that matter?"

Nope. Not to this jury. They found fault with everything Goldilocks did that day.

"She should've went to another house," one juror reasoned.

"she shouldn't have went out on a cold night, and she shouldn't have gone into the woods."

She shouldn't have gone out without her mom."

One juror found her guilty because "She should have brought a jacket, and she should have ate before she went."

Take that, Goldilocks!

After the verdict was announced, some of the students wanted to know if Goldilocks was really going to jail. They seemed a little worried.

"They should have worried about that before they voted," Davis said.

The Bar Association has staged the Goldilocks trial annually for about 10 years. This was only the third time anyone could remember that Goldilocks had been found guilty. "It's all this 'zero tolerance' in the schools that did us in," Davis joked. "They should be more worried about justice. All this for soup!"