Big bad wolf cleared by a little jury

February 27, 1992|By Donna E. Boller | Donna E. Boller,Staff Writer

A Howard County jury found Alexander T. "Big Al" Wolff not guilty of murder Wednesday in the deaths of two of the three little pigs. Traces of the pigs' bodies had been discovered in the ruins of their demolished houses of straw and sticks.

The jury of seven female and five male fourth-graders at Guilford Elementary School deliberated just 10 minutes before exonerating Mr. Wolff.

Mr. Wolff had been charged in the deaths of two brothers who lived in his Hoggston neighborhood: Billy A. Pigg, a prominent author and resident of a straw house; and Samual H. Pigg, a plumber who lived nearby in a house of sticks.

Media accounts had portrayed Mr. Wolff as "the big bad wolf" who huffed and puffed and blew down the two houses and gobbled up the occupants. A third brother, Willie S. Pigg, was reported to have escaped a similar fate only because he had built his house of bricks.

Jurors said the prosecution had failed to prove that Mr. Wolff murdered the two pigs.

"They had like no evidence that he went inside and cut off [Samual] Pigg's head," said Lydia BonGiorni, 9, of Columbia.

The trial got its start in January when Guilford's assistant principal, John Hammett, read "The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs," an account from the wolf's viewpoint, to David A. Bond's fourth-grade class. In the version by author Jon Scieszka, the wolf acknowledged having eaten the pigs. In other accounts, the two pigs succeed in escaping to their brother's brick home.

Mr. Bond recalled that the assistant principal suggested, "Wouldn't it be neat if we could give the wolf a trial and see if he really is guilty?"

He and teacher Stephanie Kolliegbo enlisted members of the county bar association to help the students prepare their cases, learn how to question witnesses and how to conduct a trial. Howard County Circuit Court Judge Dennis M. Sweeney presided at the trial.

The fourth-graders took the case seriously. When the verdict was announced, some members of the prosecution team broke down in tears.

"It was a really great trial, but we lost," said Erin Podolny, 9, of Columbia, one of the prosecuting attorneys and the daughter of two lawyers. "Lots of people in our class were crying. I was crying inside myself. I wanted to, but I don't like making scenes."

Prosecutors alleged that Mr. Wolff set out for his neighbors' homes on the morning of Feb. 20, 1991, with the intent of blowing down the two pigs' houses and murdering them to acquire a ham dinner.

The defense countered by saying that Mr. Wolff simply intended to borrow a cup of Equal from the neighboring pigs in order to bake a birthday cake for his diabetic grandmother, Virginia A. Wolff.

Defense attorneys attempted to pin the blame for Billy Pigg's death on his surviving brother, Willie, who would receive $10,000 as the beneficiary of Billy's life insurance policy. The defense also argued that Samual, who had been shaving the hairs of his chinny chin chin when Mr. Wolff arrived, decapitated himself with the razor when the house collapsed under the force of a violent sneeze by Mr. Wolff.

Willie Pigg (Alexis Oetting, 9, of Columbia) dabbed at his eyes as he testified that he had tried to call his brother Billy on Feb. 20, but the telephone went unanswered.

Later that morning, Willie Pigg said, he received a frantic call from his brother Samual. "He said there was a wolf at his door" and the wolf was attempting to blow the house down, Willie Pigg testified.

Willie Pigg dialed 911 to summon police, who testified that when they arrived at Willie's house they found Mr. Wolff beating on the door. He was arrested and charged in the two pigs' deaths.

Mr. Wolff (Amy Hafets, 9, of Elkridge) admitted having eaten the pigs, but testified that both were dead before he began the meal. "I never eat live animals because I find it very disgusting," he said.

The state's attorney's team honed in on Mr. Wolff's dietary habits.

"Isn't it true that you like to eat cute little animals?" asked Rachel Adelman, 9, of Columbia.

"It's just my nature," Mr. Wolff replied.

Juror BonGiorni said the jury had examined Billy Pigg's foot, found in the wreckage of his house, and concluded that it had been cut by a knife or dagger, not chewed as it would have been by a wolf's teeth.

Jury forewoman Lauren Liss, 9, of Columbia, said the jurors believed one witness, a fuel oil delivery worker, who testified that on the morning of the deaths she saw Willie Pigg running from Billy's house with a dagger in his hand.

At the end, Judge Sweeney told the defendant he was free to go. "But Mr. Wolff," the judge admonished, "don't do it again."

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