Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: Writing (01/11/07)
TITLE: Clemency Court
By Marlene Bonney
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Unlike the larger city, the judicial system in Chesterville was usually non-existent and unnecessary; that is, until June 23, 1920.
It all began with a thrown-together jury of vigilante justice-seekers gathered by its most prominent citizens. The case was that of a young teen caught in the act of systematically stealing fresh produce and other goods from the mercantile and surrounding businesses. The judge was appointed by unanimous consent, because he was known for his discernment and all-around good citizenship.
Benny did not need to steal to help support his family; they were of average income and his needs were always met. His actions, rather, came from a spirit of unleashed risk-taking and the thrill of alluding consequences for his actions. However, the townspeople no longer took his antics in stride, each successive thievery becoming bolder.
The boy was represented by a long-time friend of his family, Mr. Landry, who saw Benny’s escapades as misplaced energy that had the potential to be re-channeled into something positive; also, he knew everyone involved, having lived amongst them the longest. One by one, witnesses (many of whom were also on the jury) testified of the youngster’s destructive behavior. Members of the boy’s family were the only ones to testify in his favor.
The jurors’ faces mirrored those of his victims—stern with disapproval and vengeance—as the town’s self-appointed lawyer wrapped up his case against Benny. The defendant, no longer cocky, hung his head in shame as he listened to the havoc his actions had created in these people’s lives.
As Mr. Landry took his turn pacing in front of the jury, he employed a unique tactic: instead of a verbal tirade, he took a notepad and pencil from his pocket and methodically looked at each juror a moment or two before writing a few words on the top and bottom of twelve slips of paper. He then passed out one page apiece to the jurors, and rested his case.
The jury retired to the makeshift curtained section of the schoolhouse for deliberation. After thirty minutes, they returned with a “GUILTY, BY REASON OF HEEDLESSNESS” verdict, amended with a leniency sentence. Benny would devote twenty hours of service to each victim at their respective businesses to compensate them for their losses at his hands. Mr. Landry would also spend weekly time with the boy, re-directing the lad’s restless energy into service to others.
Later that evening, as the schoolmarm was preparing her lessons, she noticed notebook-sized pieces of paper scattered by the wastebasket. Thinking some of her students had been careless with their homework, she picked them up and studied them in puzzlement. At the top of each slip there was some kind of broken law or accusation written (i.e. “adultery, 1912”; “lying in court, 1910”; “cheating on legal document, 1900”; “making bootleg whiskey, 1891”) and at the bottom of each slip these exact words: “He who is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone . . .”
There have been many trials held in Chesterville over the years since this incident, many resulting in jail time or worse, but none so effective at successful rehabilitation as Benny and those succinct, written words.
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