Janet McCounaughey, AP, September 14, 2007
A state appeals court on Friday threw out the only remaining conviction against one of the black teenagers accused in the beating of a white schoolmate in the racially tense north Louisiana town of Jena.
Mychal Bell, 17, should not have been tried as an adult, the state 3rd Circuit Court of Appeal said in tossing his conviction on aggravated battery, for which he was to have been sentenced Thursday. He could have gotten 15 years in prison.
Bell’s conspiracy conviction in the December beating of student Justin Barker had already been thrown out by another court.
District Attorney Reed Walters said in a statement delivered to the weekly Jena Times that he would appeal to the state Supreme Court “after I review the decision thoroughly,”
Bell, who was 16 at the time of the beating, is one of six black students at Jena High School charged in an attack on fellow student Justin Barker, and one of five originally charged with attempted second-degree murder.
Those charges brought widespread criticism that blacks were being treated more harshly than whites after racial confrontations and fights at Jena High School.
“Although there will not be a court hearing, we still intend to have a major rally for the Jena Six and now hopefully Mychal Bell will join us,” Sharpton said in an e-mailed statement.
Said Jackson: “The pressure must continue until all six boys are set free and sent to school, not to jail.”
Jena is a mostly white town where racial animosity flared about a year ago when a black student sat under a tree that was a traditional gathering place for whites. A day later, three nooses were found hanging from the tree. There followed reports of racial fights at the school, culminating in the December attack on Barker.
The reversal of Bell’s conviction will not affect four other teenagers also charged as adults, because they were 17 years old at the time of the fight and no longer considered juveniles, said attorney George Tucker of Hammond.