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Mock Trial Jury Convicts Christopher Columbus of Murder, But Not Genocide

September 17, 1992 GMT

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) _ Are you better off today than you were 500 years ago?

In a mock trial Wednesday, attorneys for Christopher Columbus tried to prove that some things haven’t changed much since the explorer ″discovered″ the New World in 1492.

The jury didn’t buy it. Columbus was found guilty of murder, torture, slavery, forced labor, kidnapping, violence and robbery during his reign as governor of Hispaniola. Jurors deadlocked on charges of rape, international terrorism and genocide.

Columbus, 541, of Italy, was sentenced to 50 years of community service for each count, to be spent educating people about his true deeds.

The trial was sponsored by the University of Minnesota Law School’s Human Rights Center to coincide with the 500th anniversary of Columbus’ landing in North America.

Defense attorneys portrayed their client as a ″deeply religious ... upwardly mobile merchant-mariner″ who was merely acting by the standards of his day and under the orders of his queen.

The monarch, Queen Isabella of Castille (or, rather, an actress playing her), appeared as a character witness but, as sometimes happens with former world leaders, her memory had dimmed.

Sitting in the hearing room at the Minnesota State Capitol, however, she affirmed unequivocally that Columbus was a hero.

Prosecutor Larry Leventhal, dressed in a 15th-century tunic and holding a microphone, agreed that Columbus was acting by the standards of his day but said that doesn’t excuse him.

″He is a symbol of evil treachery, brutality and all that was bad in the world 500 years ago, that we want to push away so we can go on,″ he said on behalf of the plaintiffs, Peoples of Conscience and Humanity. ″This is a person who deserves the condemnation of humanity.″

Columbus, wearing a robe from 1492 and long sideburns from 1992, told the jury that the relationship with the native Americans was friendly until 39 Spanish sailors were killed at a settlement called Navidad.

Defense attorney John Stuart, a state public defender, noted the crimes in question didn’t stop in the colonies after Columbus left in 1500. In fact, they have not stopped, proving the explorer was not to blame, Stuart said.

″Would it surprise you to hear that in 500 years since you left we still haven’t moved beyond settling our differences with force?″ he asked the Admiral of the Ocean Sea.

″I would think,″ Columbus said, ″given all your scientific advancements, that you would.″