Former President Andrew Jackson acquitted on all counts!

 

On February 27, 2014, the Villa Academy 8th Grade U.S. History students traveled to the Federal Courthouse in downtown Seattle to try former president Andrew Jackson for his alleged crimes against humanity, which occurred in the 1830s as Americans moved west. The specific charges stated that “President Andrew Jackson, with premeditated intent, did conduct or authorize a widespread or systemic attack against a civilian population (herein, the Cherokee Nation), where the following methods were employed: murder, extermination, deportation or forcible transfer of population, and other similar inhuman acts that caused great suffering and serious injury.”

Students spent seven weeks preparing for this trial. Prep included learning the historical context of Native American removal, specifically, the ideas of Manifest Destiny and westward expansion. Then, students digested almost thirty pages of primary source material, which ranged from speeches to letters, and from first-hand accounts to Supreme Court decisions. Students selected witnesses, and were given roles; they had to write an essay about how their role fit into the context of the trial, and what evidence from the source material packet would assist them. Students were invited to pour through hundreds of primary source documents, in addition to what they were originally given, to find more evidence to support their case. Once the students were familiar with the historical context, the source material, and their roles, they had to get ready for the trial. This involved drafting opening and closing statements and examination questions, learning about courtroom protocol, questioning techniques, and objection rules, and practicing their testimonies.

The trial lasted for two and a half hours, opening with a heart-rending opening from the prosecution, and a crisp, detailed opening from the defense. Students battled back and forth between direct- and cross-examinations, showcasing both their exhaustive preparation and their abilities to think on their feet. 8B, the defense, focused on Georgia’s role– and blame– in the tragedy, while 8A rested their prosecution on Jackson’s history of violence toward Native Americans. Ultimately, the jury returned a NOT GUILTY verdict after debating the charges and testimony.

The students were incredibly well-prepared. While they script the trial as much as possible, some of the students were ready for a fight. They were able to go off-script when necessary and proved time and again that they knew the case materials inside and out. The gallery held their breath while Major Ridge (Katja Roberts) and John Ross (Leila Lombardo-Robinson) testified about their positions as Cherokee leaders. We witnessed an outstanding testimony from the Defense’s John Marston (Davey Moody) and an impassioned closing speech by the Prosecution’s Milla Zuniga. All of the students were able to convey an incredible amount of information through the trial format. Even Judge Coughenour mentioned that he learned quite a bit from our trial.  This year, students were able to convey emotion and drama as well as compelling — and complex!– political arguments in a way that suggested they have a clear understanding of both the moral implications of the move as well as the legal arguments that might have protected Jackson. We have never seen a defense team dig so deeply into the material.

Judge John C. Coughenour presided over the trial.

8A and 8B impressed everyone: Judge Coughenour, court clerks, visiting parents, jurors, Mr. Guadagno, and Villa’s own James Joseph and Amanda Peterson. In fact, the court staff has since said that the kids were incredibly professional, poised, and confident. Judge Coughenour remarked that this trial was one of the best examples of “real-life” learning he had ever seen.

Parents participated on the jury and sat in the gallery of the courtroom. One reported that “the kids were so well prepared and professional. I liked that they really bought into the project and cared a lot about it. On our way over some were rehearsing their testimony and strategizing. I could not believe how grown up they look! It was a really proud day for them, the teachers, the parents and Villa as a whole!”

After the trial, Judge Coughenour, appointed by President Reagan, shared his personal story with the students and parents. He invited the students to ask questions about the law, his career, and his most interesting cases. Later, students toured the Judge’s chambers.

We are so grateful to Michael Guadagno for all of the ways he supported the 8th Graders during this experience. He put forth an incredible amount of effort and time, and his guidance was invaluable. Both classes placed bets on the outcome of the trial with Mr. Guadagno. 8B, the defense, will enjoy seeing Mr. Guadagno in a stunning, trendy outfit that includes blue jeans, a Villa hoodie, socks, and sandals. 8A, the prosecution, will be wearing signs today that read, “I will never make a bet with Mr. Guadagno.”

You can view photos and video in this Dropbox link:

https://www.dropbox.com/home/Villa–Mock%20Trial–2014

(Parents, if you have video or photos, you may also UPLOAD them into the Dropbox. Please do!)

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