Prosecutors reduced the attempted murder charge against another of the “Jena Six,” a group of black high school students whose criminal charges after the beating a white classmate drew protests of racism and unequal justice.
Robert Bailey Jr. pleaded not guilty Monday to aggravated battery and conspiracy to commit aggravated battery.
He was among five of the six teens originally charged as adults with attempted murder. The sixth was charged in juvenile court.
Mychal Bell, the only member of the “Jena Six” to be tried so far, was convicted of aggravated battery; the judge threw out his conspiracy conviction. Prosecutors also dropped the attempted murder count to battery last week in the cases of Carwin Jones and Theo Shaw when they were arraigned.
That left Bryant Purvis the only youth yet to be arraigned and still charged as an adult with attempted second-degree murder.
Tense race relations in town
The victim of the Dec. 4 beating, Justin Barker, was treated at a hospital for injuries and released the same day. The motive for the attack was never established, but it came amid tense race relations in Jena, a mostly white town of 3,000 in north-central Louisiana. Three nooses had been hung in a tree at the school earlier, and the students involved were briefly suspended.
A conviction for attempted second-degree murder requires 10 to 50 years at hard labor without suspension, probation or parole. Aggravated battery can be punished with up to 15 years and a $10,000 fine.
Bell’s attorney Bob Noel said he expects an appeals court to overturn his client’s battery conviction.
He has accused LaSalle Parish District Attorney Reed Walters of using “bait-and-switch” tactics to try Bell as an adult. Under Louisiana law, a juvenile charged with aggravated battery may be charged as an adult only if the attack involved a firearm, but murder and attempted murder charges can be brought in adult court.
The Rev. Al Sharpton wrote to Gov. Kathleen Blanco and the state board of ethics on Monday asking for an investigation of the district attorney’s actions in the case.
“The prosecutor from the beginning of this case has seemingly employed less than ethical and just legal tactics in overzealous attempts to have Mychal Bell unjustly convicted,” Sharpton’s letter said.
Sharpton, the Rev. Jesse Jackson and other black leaders have called for a rally in Jena on Sept. 20, the day of Bell’s sentencing, to protest the teens’ treatment.