Posted Sept. 28, 2007 – Mychal Bell, the Black teen from Jena, La., who was convicted of beating a White classmate in a case that triggered the largest civil rights gathering in several years, has been released from jail.
A judge ordered the 17-year-old freed on $45,000 bail just hours after the prosecutor announced that he would not pursue adult charges against Bell, one of the teens known as the “Jena 6.”
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But his case is far from over.
Bell still faces trial in juvenile court in December, which is what civil rights leaders and tens of thousands of activists argued should have happened all along.
The massive public outcry over the prosecution of the "Jena 6" centered on the seeming harshness of the charges filed against them. District Attorney Reed Walters levied attempted murder and conspiracy charges against five of the group – which could have landed them in prison for up to 80 years – for their fight with Justin Barker. The White teen was knocked unconscious by Bell and later treated at a local hospital, which released him after three hours.
Walters later reduced the charges to second-degree battery and conspiracy, which could have drawn 20-year sentences. (Charges for one of the juveniles were never disclosed.)
Only one of the six, Bell, was tried and convicted, but an appeals court judge threw it out because Bell was a minor, 16, at the time of the crime, which meant it should have been tried in juvenile court, he said.
Bell has remained in jail, even though the conviction was overturned on Sept. 15, as Walters pondered whether to bring new charges.
"We still have mountains to climb, but at least this is closer to an even playing field," said the Rev. Al Sharpton, who helped organize last week's protest. "He goes home because a lot of people left their home and stood up for him."
Do you think Black Americans will begin to unify more on major civil rights issues, given the collective force of the Jena march? Was the Jena gathering a good idea?