Members of the Congressional Black Caucus called on Gov. Kathleen Blanco to pardon Mychal Bell and five other teenagers known as the “Jena 6.”
Texas Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee said in a letter to Blanco this week that Bell and the other teens have paid their debt to society and should be immediately pardoned.
“They and their families have suffered enough, as has the State of Louisiana and the town of Jena,” the letter reads.
Blanco’s press secretary, Marie Centanni, said Friday in a statement the governor cannot grant a pardon or commutation without a recommendation to do so from the state Pardon Board.
Blanco leaves office Jan. 14. The next Pardon Board meeting is scheduled for Jan. 17.
Fourteen other members of the caucus joined Lee in urging Blanco to support releasing Bell, who was sentenced to 18 months in a juvenile facility on Dec. 3 for his role in an assault last year on Justin Barker, a white student at Jena High School.
Bell pleaded guilty to a juvenile charge of second-degree battery in return for a deal that gave him credit for the 10 months he had already served. Without the deal, the 17-year-old faced being placed in a juvenile facility until his 21st birthday.
Three months before the attack on Barker, three other white teens were accused of hanging nooses from a tree at the high school. The three were suspended from school but were never criminally charged.
LaSalle Parish District Attorney Reed Walters, in an e-mailed statement Thursday, said the attack on Barker was not just a schoolyard fight “but rather an unprovoked, unforeseen assault on a young man who had nothing to do with the hanging of the nooses.”