Mary Foster, AP, October 17, 2007
A black teenager whose prosecution in the beating of a white classmate drew thousands to Louisiana for a civil rights demonstration is back in jail, but a prosecutor said Friday the sentence has nothing to do with the racially charged case.
Mychal Bell, 17, was unexpectedly sent back to prison on Thursday after going to juvenile court in central Louisiana’s LaSalle Parish for what he expected to be a routine hearing, Carol Powell Lexing, one of his attorneys said.
Instead, state District Judge J.P. Mauffrey Jr. decided Bell had violated probation and sentenced him to 18 months in jail on two counts of simple battery and two counts of criminal destruction of property, Lexing said.
“This matter was unrelated to the December 2006 event at Jena High School, and that case was not even mentioned in the court proceedings,” District Attorney Reed Walters said Friday.
Bell had faced charges before the Dec. 4 attack on white classmate Justin Barker at Jena High School. Walters’ decision to pursue adult felony charges against Bell and others who became known as the Jena Six led to charges of unfairness and, eventually, to last month’s march that drew an estimated 20,000 to 25,000 to the little town of Jena.
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.”