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Judge Indicates He Will Open Trial of Jena 6’s Bell

A state district judge filed papers Thursday indicating that he would open to the public the upcoming juvenile trial of one of the six black teenagers charged with beating a white classmate.

But District Judge J.P. Mauffray, in the court filing, also argued he was not required to open the juvenile proceedings and asked that a lawsuit, filed by several news media to do so, be dismissed.

Mauffray is the presiding judge over Mychal Bell’s case but disqualified himself from hearing the news media’s request because he was named as a defendant in the litigation. The Associated Press is among the news groups seeking access to the case.

“This is the first time there’s been any formal, official recognition that the adjudication trial will be open to the public,” said Mary Ellen Roy, an attorney for the news organizations.

The news organizations want permission to attend new hearings in Bell’s case, to review transcripts of previous hearings and other court records, and to lift a gag order against participants in the case.

District Judge Thomas Yeager, who sits in the central Louisiana city of Alexandria, agreed to hear all “procedural objections” for the hearing involving Bell on Nov. 21, according to Donald R. Wilson, an attorney for Mauffray.

Bell, 17, originally was charged with attempted murder for his alleged role in a December 2006 attack on Justin Barker at Jena High School. That charge was reduced before a jury convicted him in June of aggravated second-degree battery.

The charges against Bell and five others the so-called “Jena Six” sparked a huge civil-rights demonstration in Jena in September. Critics accused Lasalle Parish District Attorney Reed Walters of treating blacks more harshly than whites, because his office didn’t file charges against three white teens accused of hanging nooses in a tree at the high school shortly before the attack on Barker.

In September, a state appeals court vacated Bell’s conviction and ruled that he shouldn’t have been tried as an adult. Bell is scheduled to face charges of aggravated second-degree battery and conspiracy on Dec. 6.

Criminal cases involving juveniles in Louisiana are usually sealed, but lawyers for the news organizations argue that aggravated second-degree battery is one of the violent offenses that allows a juvenile court case to be opened to the public.

Five other students were charged with the attack on Barker, who was knocked unconscious.

Charges against Robert Bailey Jr., 18; Carwin Jones, 19; Theo Shaw, 18 and Bryant Purvis, 18 also have been reduced from attempted murder to aggravated second-degree battery. A sixth suspect was charged as a juvenile.

In addition to The Associated Press, news organizations seeking to open Bell’s case are The New York Times; USA Today; the Chicago Tribune; the Los Angeles Times; the Houston Chronicle; the San Antonio Express-News; The Beaumont Enterprise; The Dallas Morning News; CNN; ABC News; WDSU-TV and WWL-TV in New Orleans; WAPT-TV in Jackson, Miss.; WFAA-TV in Dallas; KHOU-TV in Houston; KVUE-TV in Austin, Texas; KENS-TV in San Antonio; The (Houma) Courier; The (Thibodaux) Daily Comet; The (Alexandria) Town Talk; The (Monroe) News-Star; The (Shreveport) Times; The (Lafayette) Daily Advertiser and The (Opelousas) Daily World.

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