Reed Walters has been praying that Mykal Bell would take a plea bargain and the clutch of stories appearing around the world demonstrate why. Monday’s dramatic hearing is being reported in Russia’s Pravda, in South Africa, France, and across the nation. Below, I have pasted Howard Witt’s initial follow-up to his groundbreaking article in the Chicago Tribune. An AP story has also been written (see Google link at the bottom of this post) and is popping up in longer and shorter versions across the country. In short, interest in this trial is remarkably high. CNN aired its Jena segment on Paula Zahn’s NOW Monday evening–the first nationally televised coverage to appear on this story in America. CBS News is also interested.
Mykal Bell is still facing serious charges. As Witt’s article notes, aggravated second degree murder requires the use of a weapon–and a fist doesn’t rate as a weapon in the state of Louisiana. Undoubtedly, DA Walters has a creative prosecutorial strategy in mind.
Mykal Bell isn’t the only person on trial this week: Reed Walters and the little town of Jena also stand before the bar of justice. Whatever the outcome of this trial, Mr. Walters and his supporters will not emerge unscathed–nor should they. The nooses hung in the school courtyard back in late August will receive hardly a mention in the courtroom (Judge Mauffray has already ruled the noose incident legally irrelevant); but the media conflagration is fanned by the bewildering disparity between Jena’s mild response to a hate crime and the community’s inexplicable over-reaction to a violent altercation at the high school in which no one was seriously injured. The only criminal charge that can be sustained in these cases is simple misdemeanor battery. If the forty-some eyewitness accounts of the incident at the school are an accurate indication, the testimony flowing from the witness chair this week will be riddled with contradictions and inconsistencies. Stay tuned, folks; we’re in for a rough ride.
Friends of Justice
Hear an mp3 recording of “Sitting on the Wall”, a song I wrote about Jena, Louisiana.
Charge reduced in ‘Jena 6′ case
Change made on day jury was to be picked
By Howard Witt
Tribune senior correspondent
Published June 26, 2007
HOUSTON—The district attorney prosecuting a racially charged beating case in the small Louisiana town of Jena abruptly reduced attempted-murder charges Monday against a black high school student accused of attacking a white student, drawing cautious praise from civil rights leaders who contend the charges were excessive and part of a pattern of uneven justice in the town.
Mychal Bell, 16, a former Jena High School football star, and five other black students had been facing the potential of up to 100 years in prison if convicted of attempted murder, conspiracy and other charges for the December beating of the white student, who was knocked unconscious but not hospitalized. The incident capped months of escalating racial tensions at the high school that began after several white youths hung nooses from a tree in the school courtyard in a taunt aimed at blacks.
But as jury selection was about to begin in Bell’s case Monday, District Atty. Reed Walters reduced the charges to aggravated second-degree battery and conspiracy to commit aggravated second-degree battery, which together carry a maximum of 22 years in prison. Walters, who is prosecuting Bell as an adult, also offered the teenager a plea agreement including a suspended sentence, which Bell’s father said the youth rejected.
Trials for the other five accused in the case have been delayed, and it was not clear whether Walters intended to reduce the charges against them as well. Walters did not speak to reporters in Jena or return calls seeking comment.
The case against the “Jena Six,” as the defendants have come to be called by their supporters, received national notice after it was featured in a May 20 Tribune report that detailed how racial animus had divided the mostly white central Louisiana town of 3,000 and erupted into repeated incidents of violence between blacks and whites.
“It certainly looks like the district attorney responded to the scrutiny the media has brought to this case,” said Alan Bean, a civil rights activist in Tulia, Texas, who, along with representatives of the ACLU and the NAACP, has been sharply critical of the charges against the black youths. “I don’t think he’s gone far enough in reducing the charges, but we’re certainly in a better place than we were.”
Bell’s father, Marcus Jones, said Monday that even though his son has been jailed since December and unable to post $90,000 bail, he preferred to take his case to a jury rather than plead guilty to a felony.
“The DA is trying to use my son as a scapegoat for these ridiculous charges,” Jones said. “He knows there’s no proof showing that my son and those other kids were trying to kill that boy. It was a simple high school fight. How can you turn that into attempted murder?”
Darrell Hickman, an attorney for one of the other youths charged in the case, said he expected the charges against the other defendants would eventually be reduced as well. And he asserted that even the reduced charges would be hard to prove.
“I think the district attorney is still overreaching,” Hickman said. “The new charge is aggravated second-degree battery, which requires use of a weapon. There’s no evidence that any weapon was involved.”
Google News Alert for: Jena, Louisiana,
Trial set for 2 charged with attempted murder after school fight
International Herald Tribune – France
AP JENA, Louisiana: Five black students are facing attempted second-degree murder charges for beating a white student, the climax of months of racial …
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