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Jury Duty - a Teen on Trial for Murder
Imagine that you are serving on a jury that has heard the following criminal
case against an 18 year old Puerto Rican-American boy accused of knifing his
father to death.
The prosecution case:
- The boy’s record shows him to be troubled. When he was ten, he was in
children's court; he threw a rock at a teacher. When he was fifteen, he was
in reform school; he stole a car. He's been arrested for mugging. He was
picked up twice for knife fighting... “They say he's real handy with a
- The people across the hall from the boy’s apartment testified that they
heard a fight or argument between the father and boy around 8 o'clock that
evening. The father hit the boy twice and they saw the boy run angrily out
of the house.
- After leaving the house at 8, the boy went to a neighborhood “junk shop”
where he bought a switch-blade knife with a “very unusual carved handle and
blade.” At 8:45, he met some friends in front of a tavern and talked with
them for about an hour. The boy's friends identified the "death weapon" in
court as the "very same knife" that the boy had with him.
- At 12 minutes past midnight the man living in the apartment beneath the
one where the killing took place heard loud noises. He testified it was a
fight going on in the room above his. He also heard the kid yell out: “I'm
gonna kill ya.” Then, a second later, he heard a body hit the floor. The old
man ran to his door, opened it, and saw the kid running down the stairs and
out of the house.
- The coroner fixed the time of death at around midnight.
- The woman in the building directly across the street was lying in bed
unable to sleep because of the heat. (Elevated train tracks run down the
middle of the street, but from her bed she can see out her bedroom window
and through the train windows into the boy’s apartment as trains go by.) She
testified that looking out her window and “right across the street,” she saw
the kid “stick the knife” into his father at precisely 12:10 am.
- The boy's alibi was “flimsy.” He claimed that he was at the movies at
the time of the killing, yet one hour later, he couldn't remember the names
of the films he saw or who played in them. And no one saw him going in or
out of the theatre.
The defense case:
- The boy said that the knife fell through a hole in his pocket on the way
to the movies and that he never saw it again.
- The boy arrived home at around 10 o'clock, and said he went to a movie
about 11:30 pm, returning home at 3:10 am “to find his father dead and
Here are the judge’s instructions: “If there's a reasonable doubt in your
minds as to the guilt of the accused, a reasonable doubt, then you must bring me
a verdict of not guilty. If however, there is no reasonable doubt, then you must
in good conscience find the accused guilty. However you decide, your verdict
must be unanimous.”
How do you vote, guilty or not guilty?
After you and your students finish with the situation above, explain that it
is a summary of the case at the center of a 1950s television drama that was made
into an award-winning film. As the film is widely available on
DVD, you may want to show and discuss it as a follow up. Whenever I have done
so, students initially grouse when they see a black and white film beginning,
but all succumb to the power of this film almost immediately. I usually show it
over two class periods, and students can't wait for the second day.
12 Angry Men is available at Amazon.com
The Wikipedia article on 12 Angry Men
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original web posting: Saturday, March 7, 2009
Saturday, March 07, 2009