MIDDLESEX TWP — Court was in session Thursday morning at Holy Sepulcher Catholic School, where the fourth-grade class tried to hold an alleged cupcake thief accountable for a culinary crime.
District Judge Sue Haggerty presided over the hearing while students dressed in formal court attire took to the witness stand while others presented evidence or sat on a jury of their peers.
Deborah Todd, the fourth-grade teacher, created the students' mock trial scenario.
In the case of the stolen birthday cake, supposed fiend “Susie Baker” was on trial for eating some stolen cupcakes at the Queen of Hogsmeade's badminton match, to which she had not been invited.
“We did have fun in practice — they were laughing at more of the jokes,” Todd said, adding that the students took a more serious approach during the actual mock trial.
Haggerty said the scenario played out like a common pleas court trial.
“(In) my court, I don't have a jury,” Haggerty said. “I think they did an excellent job for the first time doing a little court scenario. ... It is how it works — two sides, and then the jury goes out, and they make a decision.”
The trial also included allusions to both the worlds of Harry Potter and “Alice in Wonderland,” themes that student Riley Marsico said she enjoyed.
On the witness stand, “Susie” explained that in trying to find her misplaced birthday cake she became tired and hungry, and was compelled to eat a vanilla cupcake as a result.
Even though the prosecution presented cupcakes with bite marks and eyewitness accounts of a balloon tower toppled in her flight to elude police, the jury of fifth-grade pupils cleared her of all charges.
“It was fun, but it could've also been longer,” Riley said. “I kind of want Susie Baker to be guilty because that was my side.”
Fellow trial participant AJ Montes agreed that he wanted Susie held accountable. He said he wished students reading from the script would have “used a little more excitement” in their voices.
AJ and Riley agreed that the trial itself was “very fun.”
After all the excitement and talk of cake, Todd gave her students a treat and brought in chocolate cakes for them to eat — legally this time.
The students, who tried to maintain a professional manner for the trial to impress Haggerty, didn't hide their joy at being rewarded for their hard work — just icing on the cake.
“It was cool how the judge came,” AJ said.
Both AJ and Riley said they didn't have any extended interest in pursuing legal careers because they “don't want to go through all that again.”
“We're very excited that she's here,” Todd said of Haggerty. “We're very honored that she's here because of how important she is to the judicial system.”
Principal Ashley Bauer said the scale of the mock trial grew when Middlesex Township police officer, Conrad Pfeifer, heard that it was taking place.
“He suggested inviting Sue Haggerty from our local magistrate office and made the call to get her here for our show, and since then it has grown,” Bauer said. “The parents were invited. The kids were super excited.”
Bauer said part of the school's curriculum allows the students to influence more project-based learning.
“I think (this) is going to be something they remember,” she said.
At the end of the trial, students presented Haggerty with thank you gifts. They gave her a bouquet of paper flowers with prayers written on them, which Haggerty said she could always use and would keep in her courtroom. They also gave her dog biscuits for her Labrador.
“This is a little different from my court setup,” Haggerty joked at the trial's conclusion.
Haggerty said she hoped the mock trial helped students learn about the court system as well as the importance of decision-making in their own lives.
“Not a lot of kids do these mock trials,” she said. “I think it's a good learning experience to understand the court system and the flow. And it's nice to see all the kids dress up like they're going to court in their little suits.”
Haggerty also said she hopes the trial might create interest in the law for children, so they can learn at a young age what they want to be when they grow up and plan possible “shadowing” days for future career opportunities.
Haggerty's magisterial district includes Saxonburg Borough, Buffalo, Clinton, Jefferson, Middlesex, Penn and Winfield townships.