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.