JENA, La. — A teenager at the center of a civil rights controversy is back in jail after a judge sentenced him on charges that were pending before the attack that put him in the national spotlight, his attorney said Thursday.
Mychal Bell, who along with five other black teenagers had been accused of beating a white classmate, went to juvenile court Thursday expecting another routine hearing, said Carol Powell Lexing, one of Bell’s attorneys.
Instead, after a six-hour hearing, state District Judge J.P. Mauffrey Jr. sentenced him to 18 months on two counts of simple battery and two counts of criminal destruction of property, Lexing said.
He had been hit with those charges before the Dec. 4 attack on classmate Justin Barker.
“He’s locked up again,” Marcus Jones said of his 17-year-old son. “No bail has been set or nothing. He’s a young man who’s been thrown in jail again and again, and he just has to take it.”
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 recently in Jena 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. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton.
“We feel this was a cruel and unusual punishment,” said Sharpton, who was instrumental in organizing the protest held on Sept. 20, the day Bell was originally supposed to be sentenced in the case.
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 connection with 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.
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