On February 25, 2015 prosecutors once again failed to convict Richard P. Robinson for the murder of New York prostitute Helen Jewett. Robinson’s first trial in 1836 also ended in his acquittal. The brutal killing of a beautiful and popular young woman and the trial of 19-year-old clerk Richard Robinson caused a sensation in a changing New York, a city filled with young people who had left rural communities to live unsupervised in the bustling metropolis.
Students in “Everyday Lives,” Dr. Elizabeth Nix’s social history course, researched the historical figures from the 19th century that Patricia Cohen described in The Murder of Helen Jewett, and testified as those people in class. Students had to stay true to the facts in the book, but the legal counsel had leeway to ask new questions and present arguments the historical figures had not made. Our judge for the day, Dr. Darien Ripple, listened to the evidence, and like the rest of the class was surprised when the defense made the bold decision to put the accused himself on the stand. At the end of the day, our judge agreed with his 19th century predecessor that too much doubt existed to convict the “innocent boy.”