Minnie Dean was not guilty of murder, a jury found in the Old High Court in Wellington on 4 December.
It was no ordinary jury, however. The 12 jurors were year 10 social studies students from Wellington High School.
The novel idea of the students running a trial was developed by their teacher, Michael Harcourt, as a way to demystify the courts process.
“As well as teaching them about important concepts such as burden of proof and beyond reasonable doubt, the idea is to teach them about the role of the jury in democratic society,” Mr Harcourt says.
One benefit of such a programme, he says, is that the students will be more likely to respond positively to a jury summons in the future.
The students wrote the script for the trial, chose their parts, and even made very authentic looking gowns for the trial.
Just like in any trial there was a court usher, judge, jury, prosecutors, defence counsel, witnesses, the defendant and a public gallery (including people on the press bench). There were openings, examinations, cross-examinations, objections, the judge’s rulings, closings and the judge’s summing up before the jury retired to consider its verdict.
And just like in any trial, the deliberations of the jury were held behind closed doors.
While the jury was deliberating, LawTalk spoke to a number of the students who had taken part in the trial. They said they had learned a lot from the process and that they had enjoyed it a lot.
This was not the first mock trial Mr Harcourt has organised for students. The first two, however, were trials of fictional character Scar from the Lion King, and the possibly fictional Robin Hood.
The 4 December trial was the first of an historical character accused of a crime.
Williamina “Minnie” Dean was the only woman to receive the death penalty in New Zealand. She was hanged in Invercargill on 12 August 1895 after she was found guilty of murdering one-year-old Dorothy Carter.