Posted June 29, 2007 – An all-White jury in a tiny central Louisiana town found a Black teen guilty of assault and conspiracy in a racially charged drama involving the beating of a White schoolmate.
The conflict in Jena, La., a community of 2,900 Whites and 350 Blacks, surfaced last September when Black high school students discovered three hangman’s nooses swinging from a tree near campus. The rope appeared after a Black student sat under the tree, which was a usual hangout for White students.
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The principal recommended that the students deemed responsible be expelled, but his decision was overruled by the board, which agreed on a three-day suspension – a decision that ticked off many Black residents.
Almost three months later, a building at school was burned down, and a week after that, six Black students were arrested and charged with attempted second-degree murder after beating a White student, Justin Barker, who had been one of a group that was harassing them earlier in the week.
“You didn’t see the district attorney rush out to school to do anything about those nooses in the tree,” said Caseptla Bailey, whose son, Robert Bailey Jr., also was charged in the beating. “You don’t see white kids who beat up black kids charged with attempted murder. There’s nothing fair going on here.”
Thursday’s conviction of Mychal Bell, 17, on reduced charges of aggravated second-degree battery and conspiracy to commit aggravated second-degree battery could still land him in jail for more than 20 years. Sentencing is set for July 31.
It was unclear why prosecutors reduced Bell's charges or if they will do the same for the four other teens accused in the beating.
The jury of five women and one man took just three hours to return the guilty verdict. The prosecutor showed them photos of Barkers swollen face and black eye in his closing arguments.
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