Jena 6 teen, Mychal Bell, pleads out

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Mychal Bell (file)

Hat Tip: Associated Press, ABC News

A black teenager may get out of a juvenile facility in about eight months after a deal was struck Monday with prosecutors in the beating of a white classmate that sparked a major civil rights demonstration amid cries that his treatment was unduly harsh.

Mychal Bell, now 17, originally was charged as an adult with attempted murder in the beating of Justin Barker in December 2006. That charge was reduced before a jury convicted him in June of aggravated second-degree battery. In September, that verdict was thrown out by an appeals court that said Bell should be tried as a juvenile.

Under the deal, Bell pleaded guilty to a juvenile charge of second-degree battery in return for an 18-month sentence with credit for the 10 months he already has served. Without a deal, Bell faced being placed in a juvenile facility until his 21st birthday.

Bell also must pay court costs plus $935 to the Barker family and he must testify truthfully in court if any other of his co-defendants in the Barker beating go to trial.

Bell is one of a group of teens who came to be known as the “Jena Six” as word spread of their arrests on attempted second-degree murder charges, which could have landed them in prison for decades.

“We were prepared to go forward with the trial, but you have to do what’s best for the client,” said Carol Powell Lexing, one of Bell’s attorneys. A juvenile court trial was to begin later this week.

As part of the deal, Bell will undergo counseling and begin to be reintegrated into the school system, his lawyers said.

LaSalle Parish District Attorney Reed Walters said he was pleased with the deal “because Mr. Barker is beginning to get the restitution and compensation he’s due.”

Walters said he would try to work out plea deals with the other teens charged in Barker’s beating. He said his decision to work out a deal was not influenced by the intense media coverage and civil rights demonstrations.

Critics said prosecutors have treated blacks more harshly than whites in LaSalle Parish, pointing to an incident three months before the attack on Barker in which three white teens were accused of hanging nooses from a tree at the high school. The three were suspended from school but never criminally charged.

Walters has said there was no state crime to charge them with.

I am livid right now and essentially unable to comment, but I’ll have more to say later.

Mychal Bell back in jail

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Hat Tip: Black America’s Web, Associated Press

JENA, La. – (AP) A judge ordered a black teenager back to jail, deciding the fight that put him in the national spotlight violated terms of his probation for a previous conviction, his attorney said.

Mychal Bell, who along with five other black teenagers in the so-called Jena Six case is accused of beating a white classmate, had gone to juvenile court in Jena on Thursday expecting another routine hearing, said Carol Powell Lexing, one of his attorneys.

Instead, state District Judge J.P. Mauffrey Jr. sentenced Bell to 18 months in jail on two counts of simple battery and two counts of criminal destruction of property, Lexing said.

“We are definitely going to appeal this,” she said. “We’ll continue to fight.”

Bell had been hit with those charges before the Dec. 4 attack on classmate Justin Barker. Details on the previous charges, which were handled in juvenile court, were unclear.

Mauffrey, reached at his home Thursday night, had no comment.

“He’s locked up again,” Marcus Jones said of his 17-year-old son. “No bail has been set or nothing. He’s a young man who’s been thrown in jail again and again, and he just has to take it.”

After the attack on Barker, Bell was originally charged with attempted murder, but the charges were reduced and he was convicted of battery. An appeals court threw that conviction out, saying Bell should not have been tried as an adult on that charge.

Racial tensions began rising in August 2006 in Jena after a black student sat under a tree known as a gathering spot for white students. Three white students later hung nooses from the tree. They were suspended but not prosecuted.

More than 20,000 demonstrators gathered last month in the small central Louisiana town to protest what they perceive as differences in how black and white suspects are treated. The case has drawn the attention of civil rights activists including the Revs. Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson.

Sharpton reacted swiftly upon learning Bell was back in jail Thursday.

“We feel this was a cruel and unusual punishment and is a revenge by this judge for the Jena Six movement,” said Sharpton, who helped organize the protest held Sept. 20, the day Bell was originally supposed to be sentenced.

Bell’s parents were also ordered to pay all court costs and witness costs, Sharpton said.

“I don’t know what we’re going to do,” Jones said. “I don’t know how we’re going to pay for any of this. I don’t know how we’re going to get through this.”

Bell and the other five defendants have been charged in the attack on Barker, which left him unconscious and bleeding with facial injuries. According to court testimony, he was repeatedly kicked by a group of students at the high school.

Bell, Robert Bailey Jr., Carwin Jones, Bryant Purvis and Theo Shaw were all initially charged — as adults — with attempted second-degree murder and conspiracy to commit the same. A sixth defendant was charged in the case as a juvenile.

Bell, who was 16 at the time, was convicted in June of aggravated second-degree battery and conspiracy to commit that crime. LaSalle Parish prosecutor Reed Walters reduced the charges just before the trial. Since then, both of those convictions were dismissed and tossed back to juvenile court, where they now are being tried.

Charges against Bailey, 18, Jones, 19, and Shaw, 18, have been reduced to aggravated second-degree battery. Purvis, 18, has not yet been arraigned.

Young NAACPers Collecting ‘Dangerous Weapons’ – Sneakers – to Send to Jena Six D.A.

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Hat Tip: By Sherrel Wheeler Stewart, Black America Web

Tennis shoes were used as dangerous weapons on Dec. 4, 2006 when six black students at Louisiana’s Jena High School fought white schoolmate Justin Barker, LaSalle Parish District Attorney J. Reed Walters told a courtroom this summer.

So hundreds of miles away in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, youth members of the NAACP have launched a drive to encourage people to turn in their dangerous weapons — sneakers, or tennis shoes as they are called in the South.

“We want used sneakers. We want the rank, stank, dirty sneakers. We want to send a message,” said the Rev. Elisha B. Morris, youth advisor for the Philadelphia Youth Council NAACP. “We’re going to box the sneakers up and ship them to the district attorney in Jena, Louisiana.” The group also wants each person who donates sneakers to contribute $2 for the Jena Defense Fund.

The effort is in response to charges brought against six black youths following the 2006 fight. Initially, Mychal Bell, Robert Bailey Jr., Carwin Jones, Bryant Purvis and Theo Shaw faced charges attempted murder and conspiracy in connection with the fight. A juvenile was also charged.

Bell was tried as an adult and convicted before an appeals court overturned that action and said Bell’s case should be handled in juvenile court. He is now going through proceedings in juvenile court, which are not public.

The fight followed weeks of racial tension in the town of 3,000 touched off in August 2006, after white students hung nooses from a tree. The white students were suspended from school several days, school officials have said.

The call for equal justice for the Jena Six picked up volume throughout the summer, and on Sept. 20, more than 25,000 people from across the country converged on Jena to show support.

The “Dangerous Weapons Drive” was launched on that day during a rally at Temple University in Philadelphia. Morris said a photographer at the event took his sneakers off and turned them in on the spot along with $2.

“No student, regardless of race, should have to tolerate what the Jena Six has faced,” said Darius Alexander, president of the Temple University Progressive NAACP Chapter.

“The charges were absurd. We want to send a message that this will not be tolerated,” Alexander told BlackAmericaWeb.com.

About 80 pairs of sneakers have been collected at Temple so far, but organizers expect more to come.

A local radio station is helping the effort by supporting a drop off point for sneakers at an Oct. 19 concert at the Wachovia Center featuring Kanye West, Rihanna, Ne-Yo, Eve, Akon, Swizz Beatz, Soulja Boy and Cassidy. Also, contests throughout the Philadelphia area have different organizations competing to collect the largest number of sneakers.

Morris said he wants to encourage activism among youths while sending a message to the justice system in LaSalle Parish and the state of Louisiana. He said he envisions a scene reminiscent of the courtroom scene in “Miracle on 34st Street.”

“The judge asked, ‘Where is the proof that this man is Santa Claus?’ First, they presented the judge a few letters that had been sent to him through the post office. Then, they brought in several loads. That’s what I want to see,” Morris told BlackAmericaWeb.com.

When Syracuse University professor and activist Boyce Watkins heard about the sneakers campaign, he laughed, he said.

“I think the shoes prove a point. It is so reflective of the energy and creativity young people bring to the movement,” Watkins told BlackAmericaWeb.com.

“The civil rights movement was driven by youths. They are idealists, and they believe. They are not constrained by social norms,” he said. “Some people call it the hip-hop generation. I call it the hip-hope generation. We have to support them and harness and nurture their energy.”

Mike Weaver, an Atlanta-based researcher who visited Jena long before the thousands arrived on Sept. 20, said while the sneakers drive will send a message, he is doubtful of the impact.

“They are going to ship (the shoes) to District Attorney Reed Walters, and he’s going to do the same thing he has done before,” Weaver said.

Morris said the goal of the sneakers drive and the contributions is to keep the momentum of Jena going, especially among the youth. “This is not over,” he said.

According to Watkins, attention needs to be focused on the entire system of justice in LaSalle Parish and in Louisiana.

“This is much bigger than Jena,” he said. “What about the thousands who are in prison because of an unequal system of justice?”

None of the six Jena youths currently are in jail. Bell was released on Sept. 28, a week after the rally that attracted world wide attention.

Alexander, a senior majoring in kinesiology at Temple, said word of the drive is spreading to other Philadelphia-area college campuses, including the University of Pennsylvania and Drexel University. High school students are also getting involved.

“For me, personally, I just think about the same thing could happen to you,” he said. “That should give enough reason to fight.”

Mychal Bell is freed on bail

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 'Jena 6' suspect free on bail

Hat Tip: Doug Simpson, Associated Press

A black teenager whose prosecution in the beating of a white classmate prompted a massive civil rights protest here walked out of a courthouse Thursday after a judge ordered him freed.

Mychal Bell’s release came hours after a prosecutor confirmed he will no longer seek an adult trial for the 17-year-old. Bell, one of the teenagers known as the Jena Six, still faces trial as a juvenile in the December beating.

District Attorney Reed Walters’ decision to abandon adult charges means that Bell, who had faced a maximum of 15 years in prison on his aggravated second-degree battery conviction last month, instead could be held only until he turns 21 if he is found guilty in juvenile court.

The conviction in adult court was thrown out this month by the state 3rd Circuit Court of Appeal, which said Bell should not have been tried as an adult on that particular charge.

Walters credited the prayers of people in this small central Louisiana town with averting a “disaster” when tens of thousands of demonstrators descended on the town. Some critics of Walters considered that a slap against the peaceful marchers.

Finally, CBC steps up on the Jena 6

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Hat Tip: N.O. Times Picayune, Associated Press — The Congressional Black Caucus is asking the Justice Department to investigate possible civil rights violations in the “Jena 6″ case that sparked a massive protest in Louisiana last week.

“This shocking case has focused national and international attention on what appears to be an unbelievable example of the separate and unequal justice that was once commonplace in the Deep South,” the group of 43 lawmakers said in a letter to Acting Attorney General Peter Keisler.

Justice Department spokesman Brian Roehrkasse said the department has been closely monitoring the case of six black high school teens arrested for beating a white classmate in Jena, La. He said the department also is investigating allegations of threats against the students and their families.

“Since these investigations are ongoing, the department cannot comment any further,” Roehrkasse said.

The caucus also sent a separate letter asking Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco to pardon 17-year-old Mychal Bell, the black teen convicted in adult court of aggravated second-degree battery after the charge was reduced from attempted murder.

Bell, who remains behind bars, was one of six Jena High School students arrested after a December attack on a white student, Justin Barker, and the only one to be tried.

Bell was tried as an adult and convicted of aggravated second-degree battery after the charge was reduced from attempted murder. A state appeals court recently threw out his conviction, saying he could not be tried as an adult.

District Attorney Reed Walters said Thursday that he would not appeal that decision and would let a juvenile court deal with the case.

The black lawmakers call the decision to charge Bell and his classmates as adults “an abuse of prosecutorial discretion” and claim no action was taken in a recent similar case involving a white defendant and a black victim.

“The failure to grant bail to Mychal Bell is harsh, to the point of being unconscionable, given all the facts that have come to our attention,” the lawmakers wrote to Blanco.

More than 20,000 people converged on the small town last week to protest the case, accusing local officials of prosecuting blacks more harshly than whites.
 

Mychal Bell’s bail set at $45,000

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Hat Tip: (CNN) — Bail was being posted Thursday for Mychal Bell, a black teenager accused of beating a white classmate, after a district attorney’s announcement that he would not appeal a higher court’s decision moving Bell’s case to juvenile court, according to the Rev. Al Sharpton.

Mychal Bell, 17, is accused with five others of beating Justin Barker in a school fight.

Bell’s bail was set at $45,000, Sharpton said. The paperwork was being worked out, he said, and the bail bondsman was at the courthouse.

Earlier Thursday, Bell was moved from jail to a juvenile facility, according to his attorney, Lewis Scott.

LaSalle Parish District Attorney Reed Walters said his decision not to appeal was based on what he believed is best for the victim in the case.

“While I believe that a review would have merit … I believe it is in the best interest of the victim and his family not to delay this matter any further and move it to its conclusion,” Walters told reporters. Video Watch the district attorney say he won’t challenge the ruling. »

He said a march by 15,000 people last week in the small town of 3,000 residents led by civil rights leaders Sharpton and Martin Luther King III did not influence his decision.

Demonstrators were protesting how authorities handled the cases of Bell and five other teens accused of beating fellow student Justin Barker.

Many said they are angry that the students, dubbed the “Jena 6,” are being treated more harshly than three white students who hung nooses from an oak tree on high school property.

The white students were suspended from school but did not face criminal charges. The protesters say they should have been charged with a hate crime.

Bell, now 17, was the only one of the Jena 6 behind bars. His bond previously was set at $90,000.

A district judge earlier this month tossed out Bell’s conviction for conspiracy to commit second-degree battery, saying the matter should have been handled in juvenile court. The 3rd Circuit Court of Appeal in Lake Charles, Louisiana, did the same with Bell’s battery conviction in mid-September.

Prosecutors originally charged all six black students accused of being involved in beating Barker with second-degree attempted murder and conspiracy. Walters reduced charges against at least four of them — Bell, Robert Bailey Jr., Carwin Jones and Theo Shaw — to battery and conspiracy.

Bryant Purvis awaits arraignment. Charges against Jesse Ray Beard, who was 14 at the time of the alleged crime, are unavailable because he’s a juvenile.

Wednesday, Gov. Kathleen Blanco announced that Louisiana State Police officers will protect the families of the Jena 6 and investigate any threats they have received. A white supremacist Web site posted the names and addresses of the six black teens after last week’s march, calling on followers to “let them know justice is coming.”

Thursday, the FBI said it has been made aware of allegations of threats.

“Threats are taken seriously, and as these investigations are ongoing we cannot comment further,” said Sheila Thorne of the FBI’s New Orleans, Louisiana, office.

The December 4 attack on Barker came after months of racial tension, including at least two instances of fighting in the town, sparked originally when three white teens hung nooses from an oak tree on the town’s high school grounds.

Walters has said there was no direct link between the hanging of the nooses and the schoolyard attack, and defended the prosecutions ahead of last Thursday’s peaceful march. Blanco defended the prosecutor Wednesday, saying, “He has a solid record and is highly respected among his peers.”

Walters also addressed the stress and notoriety the town has been subjected to, saying the only way he and other residents “have been able to endure the trauma that has been thrust upon us is through the prayers of the Christian people who have sent them up in this community.”

He also suggested that some kind of “disaster” was averted when thousands of marchers came to Jena last week.

“I firmly believe and am confident of the fact that had it not been for the direct intervention of the Lord Jesus Christ last Thursday, a disaster would have happened,” Walters said.

“The Lord Jesus Christ put his influence on those people and they responded accordingly,” he said, without explaining exactly what he meant.

Soon after the district attorney spoke, a local reverend took issue with his comments.

Obviously, we are serving two different gods here,” the Rev. Donald Sidley said. “My Bible says that we should do — we should be loving, love your neighbor as yourself.

“For him to try and separate the community like he is and then using Christ Jesus to influence the people that Jesus is working on their side, well, that’s — that’s absurd. … God is god of the human race,” said Sidley, of the New Evergreen Church.

Jena 6 DA yields to pressure from Governor

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 Hat Tip: Doug Simpson, Associated Press

Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco said Wednesday that the prosecutor in one of the so-called “Jena 6″ cases has decided not to challenge an appellate ruling that sends the case to juvenile court.

LaSalle Parish District Attorney Reed Walters had earlier said he would appeal the state appeals court’s decision that 17-year-old Mychal Bell’s second-degree battery conviction be set aside. The court ruled that Bell could not be tried as an adult.

Blanco said she had spoken with Walters and asked him to reconsider pushing to keep the case in the adult courts system. She said Walters contacted her Wednesday to say he had decided not to appeal the ruling.

“I want to thank him for this decision he has made,” Blanco said.

Bell, who remains behind bars, was one of six Jena High School teens arrested after a December attack on a white student, Justin Barker. Five of the six teens initially were charged with attempted second-degree murder, though charges for four of them, including Bell, were later reduced. One teen hasn’t been arraigned, and the case of the sixth, handled as a juvenile, is sealed.

Blanco made her announcement at a news conference with activists Martin Luther King III and the Rev. Al Sharpton. Sharpton said he hopes a bond will be set low enough to allow for Bell’s release, and he thanked Blanco for getting involved in the matter.

“I want to congratulate her for showing leadership,” Sharpton said. “And I want to congratulate the district attorney for good judgment.”

Blanco said Walters gave her permission to announce his decision, and that he planned to discuss his decision publicly on Thursday. A phone call placed at Walters’ home went unanswered Wednesday.

The case brought more than 20,000 protesters to the central Louisiana town of Jena last week in a marched that harkened back to the demonstrations of the 1950s and ’60s.

Critics accuse local officials of prosecuting blacks more harshly than whites. They note that no charges were filed against three white teens suspended from the high school for allegedly hanging nooses in a tree on campus — an incident that was followed by fights between blacks and whites, including the attack on Barker.

Walters has condemned the noose incident — calling it “abhorrent and stupid” in a New York Times op-ed piece Thursday — but said the act broke no Louisiana law.

In the article, Walters defended the aggravated second-degree battery counts most of those charged in the attack on Barker now face. He said Barker was “blindsided,” knocked unconscious and kicked by at least six people, and would have faced “severe injury or death” had another student not intervened.