OXNARD : Mock Trial Convicts Columbus

Christopher Columbus, castigated by some for being a plundering colonizer and praised by others for being a hero, was found guilty of charges of negligence, battery and trespassing in a mock trial staged by Oxnard College students.

Dressed in red tights and a yellow and red velvet tunic, Columbus defended his 1492 colonization of what is now known as the Dominican Republic.

Columbus, played by Legal Assistants Program professor Edward Buckle, disputed the accusations that he and his men were murderers who raped the land. The trial was played out Wednesday before an audience that also acted as the jury. After the trial, however, an appeals court--also made up of students--overturned the trespassing and negligence guilty verdicts, but upheld the guilty verdict on the battery charge.

Although Columbus was once uniformly touted as a courageous adventurer to schoolchildren across the country, his exploits have come under increasing criticism from some historians and authors of textbooks for children.

However, Buckle and his defense team of students justified Columbus' actions, saying he acted as any reasonable European explorer would have. Judged by morals and law in Columbus' era rather than those in place today, "his actions were both customary and legal," said student John Schumacher. "He was a product of the times."

Student Tom Schembri, who delivered the defense's closing argument, encouraged the jury to look at the good that Columbus' efforts produced: the United States and what was once considered a daring experiment--democracy.

But the prosecution charged Columbus with ravaging lush tropical forests and enslaving the Native Meso-Americans, many of whom died of diseases that the Spanish explorer and his crew of seafaring felons brought with them.

Prosecutor Wendy Martin cited a population count in 1492 that set the native population at 8 million, a far cry from the 30,000 recorded in a 1514 census. Martin likened Columbus to Adolf Hitler, Napoleon Bonaparte, Benito Mussolini and Saddam Hussein.

Buckle, acting as Columbus, said he had to bring felons with him because other sailors feared they would fall off the edge of the world when Columbus sailed into uncharted waters. He said he could not always control what they did to the natives, whom he described as cannibals scarred from warring with each other and polygamists who fought with his men.

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