(An update of this story can be found here.)
The Jena 6 and Justin Barker are now free to move ahead with their lives. The terms of the plea agreement were revealed in the course of a two-hour court hearing at the LaSalle Parish courthouse. Each of the five remaining defendants in this case pleaded “no contest” to the misdemeanor charge of simple battery. Each will be placed on non-supervised probation for one week and must pay a $500 fine and in most cases an additional $500 in court costs. In addition, a civil suit filed by the family of Justin Barker was settled when the Jena 6 defendants (including Mychal Bell) agreed to pay the Barker family an undisclosed settlement. Attorneys are not allowed to reveal the details of the settlement but a reliable source has disclosed that the payment was approximately $24,000.
The picture above was taken on the LaSalle courthouse steps moments after the settlement brought a two-and-a-half year legal fight to a satisfying conclusion. Pictured (left to right) are Corwin Jones, 20, Jesse Ray Beard, 18, Bryant Purvis (20), Robert Bailey (19) and Theo Shaw (20) and, in the second row, yours truly (56). Judge Thomas Yeager was clearly impressed that all five of the defendants who appeared before him today are enrolled in college. Two of them tell me they are considering law school.
I will explain how we got to this point in a later post, but the short answer is that we were able to recruit skilled and dedicated attorneys (some of whom are pictured to the left). The legal fight never attracted much media coverage, but everyone familiar with the American criminal justice system knows it is virtually impossible to achieve a positive outcome in a morally and factually ambiguous case without highly trained legal professionals.
The legal fight began in earnest when the Southern Poverty Law Center agreed to secure the services of the best defense attorney in Louisiana–they did some checking and called up Jim Boren of Baton Rouge. Jim’s involvement opened the door to pro bono talent from law firms in Chicago and New York City. In addition, several regional attorneys lent their talents to the project.
David Utter and Jesse Ray Beard
Theo Shaw and Rob McDuff
Jim Boren and Una Dean (background) attorneys for Robert Bailey
I will have more to say about this historic settlement in the next few days.