I haven’t said much about developments in the Jena 6 story because there hasn’t been much to say. Last week I paid a visit to Jena and have remained in conversation with defense counsel and the Jena 6 families. Sherell Stewart of Black America Web called District Attorney Reed Walter’s office this week. She was told that Mr. Walters would like to settle these cases through plea agreements or jury trials in March and April.
This comes as a surprise to defense counsel. They have heard nothing from Mr. Walters. Attorneys making special trips to Jena hoping for a word with the District Attorney have been stonewalled.
My thoughts on the subject can be found in the second half of Ms. Stewart’s article. The media is still calling, but journalists, naturally, are waiting for a break in the legal log jam.
Jena Six Attorneys, D.A. Reed Walters Both Want Case Settled Before Remaining Trials
“No trials have been firmly set. He (Walters) would like to get them done in March or April,” Bill Furlow, a spokesman for Walters, told BlackAmericaWeb.com. “He would like to settle.”
Darrell Hickman, an attorney for one of the Jena Six, said the youths’ attorneys proposed a suggested settlement for all of the defendants about two months ago, but have had no response from Walters. That proposed settlement asked that none of the young men serve additional jail time.
“We’re not getting much cooperation from the district attorney,” Hickman told BlackAmericaWeb.com.
The six black teens were locked up after a December 2006 school fight where a white student, Justin Barker, was beaten at Jena High School. The prosecutor in the case has said that the beating of Barker warranted strict punishment.
Activists say Jena has two separate systems of justice for blacks and whites. Whites who hung nooses at the school in August 2006 were suspended for several days. Walters has said there were no hate crime laws in Louisiana that would apply to the hanging of the nooses by the high school students.
The amount of the Jena Six’s bonds ranged as high as $135,000, and the potential sentences on the felony charges for those being treated as adults could have ranged as high as 75 years, attorneys have said. Charges have since been reduced.
Last summer, Bell was found guilty, but on appeal, the court said that because he was a juvenile at the time of the incident, his matter should have been handled in juvenile court. Bell agreed to a plea deal in December, accepting a juvenile sentence of 18 months.
Bell was the first to be convicted in the case that brought national attention to the tiny Louisiana town.
More than 20,000 people descended on Jena on Sept. 20 in one of the nation’s largest civil rights marches in recent years. For months, internet blogs and activists called for freedom for the Jena Six.
Hickman said his client Bryant Purvis should not be required to serve additional time.
“We maintain that he was not involved,” Hickman said. Purvis was locked up about two days in December 2006 in connection with the incident.
In recent weeks, Purvis has had problems in Texas, where he is now attending high school. He confronted another youth who was said to have vandalized his vehicle. He was arrested and charged with misdemeanor assault.
The Jena trial for Purvis is scheduled to start on March 24, but Hickman said he will file for a change of venue on Friday, which will delay the trial. The local judge has to rule first on the request, and the attorney said if that ruling is not acceptable, he can appeal to the state Supreme Court.
Purvis has been a standout on the basketball team this season at Hebron High School in Carrollton, Texas. Hickman said some colleges were looking at Purvis last year, and he is planning to attend after completing high school.
Hickman said the Texas incident should not impact the Jena trial, but it may affect the way the district attorney perceives his client.
Attorneys for the Jena Six have said their clients can not get a fair trial LaSalle Parish because of the history with the district attorney and with Judge J.P. Mauffrey.
Alan Bean of the Texas-based Friends of Justice said it would be in the best interest of the town and the young men to settle the cases instead of going to trial.
“I get the impression that Walters doesn’t want to appear weak, but he does not want his own involvement in these cases to receive additional scrutiny,“ Bean told BlackAmericaWeb.com. “I don’t think he wants it to go to trial because the media would descend on the town again.“
Bean began more than a year ago contacting media and advocacy groups across the country to make them aware of the plight of the Jena Six, youths he said were not getting the justice to which they are entitled.
“They want to get on with their lives, but sometimes it’s difficult with something like this hanging over your head,” he said.
Shaw and Bailey have relocated to Georgia temporarily where they are attending school, according to published reports.
Beard, who was a juvenile at the time of the incident, has returned to Jena High School.
Jones, who was a senior at the time of the incident, has completed his requirements, and landed a job working in the oil industry, his father told BlackAmericaWeb.com last year.
Still, Bean said, the young men, their families and their town can move on once the cases are settled.
“No one who is involved on either side can really breathe easy and return to normal life until this is settled,” he said. “The time has come for that to happen.”