Judge Sends `Jena 6' Teen Back To Jail For Probation Violation
Friday, October 12th 2007, 7:29 am
News On 6
NEW ORLEANS (AP) _ 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 felongy 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.
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.
Barker was treated for three hours at an emergency room but was able to attend a school function that evening, authorities have said.
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.