The attorney for a teenager whose conviction as an adult in a racially charged schoolyard beating was overturned last week has filed motions to have him released from jail, or at least moved to a juvenile facility, while the prosecutor appeals.
“It’s my opinion that he should be out of jail now, but at the very least he should not be in an adult correctional facility,” Bob Noel, attorney for Mychal Bell, said Monday.
On Friday, the Third Circuit Court of Appeal in Lake Charles said Bell, who was 16 at the time of the December beating of a school mate at Jena High School, should not have been tried as an adult in the case.
Bell is one of six black Jena students charged in the attack on Justin Barker, who is white. Bell and four others were originally charged as adults with attempted second-degree murder, charges that were widely criticized as overly harsh. A fifth person was charged in the alleged assault as a juvenile.
Charges were eventually reduced for Bell to aggravated second-degree battery, still a felony carrying up to 15 years in prison. However, while teens in Louisiana can be charged as adults for some violent crimes, the battery charge is not one of them and Bell’s conviction could not stand, the appeal court said.
Bell has been jailed since January, unable to meet the $90,000 bond set for him.
In a statement, LaSalle Parish District Attorney Reed Walters said he will appeal the ruling to the Louisiana Supreme Court “after I review the decision thoroughly.”
He has two weeks to appeal. Bell cannot be released from the LaSalle Parish jail unless Walters lets that period lapse without an appeal or the Louisiana Supreme Court rules in Bell’s favor, Sheriff Carl Smith said.
“So far the district attorney has refused to let Mychal be released,” Noel said. “We also filed for a reduced bond this morning.”
The Rev. Jesse Jackson said Monday that he was calling for federal intervention to get Bell released.
“Reed Walters has dug in his heels and is trying to exploit the situation for political gain so he can look tough on crime,” Jackson said. “We need federal intervention on this. We needed federal intervention to get into school in Little Rock in 1950 and we need federal intervention now.”
Jackson said he would talk to the chairman of the U.S. House Judiciary Committee to see if federal help was available.
Law enforcement officers from across the state will be in Jena on Thursday to help the town of about 3,500 people deal with the thousands expected to rally in support of Bell and the others.
“On a local level, this may be a little more of a burden, but this isn’t anything different than what we handle regularly,” Louisiana State Police Sgt. Markus Smith said. “If we can handle Mardi Gras, we can handle anything.”
Information from: Alexandria Daily Town Talk, http://www.thetowntalk.com
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