Bonnie Parker on trial

Bonnie Parker went on trial in Columbia this week in the “Grapevine Murder” case.

Yes, it was THE Bonnie Parker, resurrected by the University of Missouri Law School’s Historical and Theatrical Trial Society, charged with the murder of a policeman in Grapevine, Missouri in 1934, a few months before she and her lover Clyde Barrow were killed in the state of Louisiana.

The real killing happened in Grapevine Texas and took the lives of two officers. But the historical society took some poetic license to move the event to our state so she could be tried under Missouri law. HATTS, as it calls itself, holds mock trials each year of historical or literary figures. Students and faculty members research a potential cause of action that was never tried during the lifetime of the person “accused.” The trials give students and faculty a chance to research history and the law and then to practice contemporary courtroom practice.

This year’s HATTS production was the sixth of these mock trials. In previous years, the production has put abolitionist John Brown on trial for the murders of five pro-slavery men in Kansas. The group tried Al Capone for his part in the Valentine’s Day Massacre, Governor Thomas T. Crittenden, who was accused of conspiring with Robert Ford to kill Jesse James, Lewis and Clark for stealing an Indian canoe, and Dr. Victor Frankenstein who was charged with, in effect, a strange form of malpractice–as a layman interprets it.

We have found the Crittenden trial for viewing on the internet. We don’t know if the others also are available but if they are not, we wish they were. They’d be interesting entertainment, of course, but it also would be interesting to see historical or literary figures defending their actions in a legal setting.

The humanity of history is too often lost in the recounting of events. But events such as these do not transpire in a vacuum. People cause them. People are affected by them. The things people do have consequences. The passage of time and decades of public evaluation of issues, events, and personalities often raises questions about justification, propriety, and legality. And justification, propriety, and legality are all parts of the law.

But there’s more to law than black and white words on the pages of statute books. Putting Governor Crittenden on trial as a participant in a murder conspiracy, even if that conspiracy targeted a murderer, also put society’s ethics, public safety, and government policy in the spotlight.

And the law defines our humanity… as our humanity defines the law.

Fascinating stuff, these HATTS productions, on several levels.

Bonnie was found not guilty, by the way. She claimed she was asleep in the car when gang member Henry Methvin, who was in the car driven by Clyde, shot the two officers. “I feel jubilated,” she (actually second-year law student Ashton Botts who played Bonnie) said after the verdict.

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