- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 15, 2007

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A state appeals court yesterday threw out the only remaining conviction against one of the black teenagers accused in the beating of a white schoolmate in the racially tense north Louisiana town of Jena.

Mychal Bell, 17, should not have been tried as an adult, the state Third Circuit Court of Appeal said in tossing his conviction on aggravated battery, for which he was to have been sentenced Thursday. He could have gotten 15 years in prison.

His conspiracy conviction in the December beating of student Justin Barker was already thrown out by another court.

Mychal, who was 16 at the time of the beating, and four others were originally charged with attempted second-degree murder.

Those charges brought widespread criticism that blacks were being treated more harshly than whites following racial altercations involving Jena High School students.

Civil rights leaders, including the Revs. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, planned a rally in support of the teens for the day Mychal was to have been sentenced.

“Although there will not be a court hearing, we still intend to have a major rally for the Jena Six and now hopefully Mychal Bell will join us,” Mr. Sharpton said in an e-mailed statement.

“The pressure must continue until all six boys are set free and sent to school, not to jail,” said Mr. Jackson.

Jena is a mostly white town where racial animosity flared about a year ago when a black student sat under a tree that was a traditional gathering place for whites. A day later, three nooses were found hanging from the tree. Reports of racial fights at the school, culminating in the attack on Mr. Barker have since followed.

Teenagers can be tried as adults in Louisiana for some violent crimes, including attempted murder, but aggravated battery is not one of those crimes, the court said.

Defense attorneys argued the aggravated battery case should not have been tried in adult court once the attempted murder charge was reduced.

The case “remains exclusively in juvenile court,” the court ruled.

District Attorney Reed Walters said in a statement delivered to the weekly Jena Times that he would appeal to the state Supreme Court “after I review the decision thoroughly.”

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