Judge Tosses 1 Count in Jena Race Fight

AP, Washington Post, Sept. 5, 2007

JENA, La. -- A judge threw out a teenager's conspiracy conviction in the alleged beating of a white student by a group of black schoolmates, but the teen's battery conviction still stands.

The ruling Tuesday means Mychal Bell, 17, will face at most 15 years in prison rather than 22 1/2 when he is sentenced later this month.

The case drew protests after five of the six teens, dubbed the "Jena Six," were originally charged with attempted second-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder, carrying sentences of up to 80 years in prison. The sixth was charged in juvenile court.

The beating victim, Justin Barker, 18, was treated for injuries at a hospital and released the same day, and a motive for the alleged Dec. 4 attack at Jena High School was never established.

Bell was the first of six teens to go to trial. The attempted murder charges were reduced to aggravated second-degree battery and conspiracy to commit aggravated battery, and Bell was convicted. However, Judge J.P. Mauffray Jr. threw out the conspiracy conviction Tuesday, saying juveniles could not be charged with conspiracy in adult court.

Both sides said they would appeal. Bell's attorneys want the battery charge throw out, as well, and the case returned to juvenile court.

The charges against two of the other teens, Carwin Jones and Theo Shaw, were also reduced Tuesday from attempted second-degree murder to aggravated second-degree battery and conspiracy. Robert Bailey Jr. and Bryant Purvis, still face attempted murder charges, and the unidentified juvenile has yet to go to trial.

The beating came amid tense race relations in Jena, a mostly white town of 3,000 in north-central Louisiana. After a black student sat under a tree on the school campus where white students traditionally congregated, three nooses were hung in the tree. Students accused of placing the nooses were suspended from school for a short period.

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