Friday, September 21, 2007

facts in the Jena case

As far as I can tell, here are the current facts of the Jena case. There seems to be some debate about some of these details. But this is what I have gathered from news reports and such:

On December 4, 2006, Jena High School student Justin Barker, age 17, was assaulted by other Jena High students. Barker was knocked to the ground after being hit in the back of his head. From there, according to some witnesses, a group of black students followed suit by repeatedly kicking him. Barker, who was left unconscious after the attack, was examined by a doctor at the local hospital. In the meantime, the six students accused of the attack, eventually dubbed the "Jena Six", were arrested.

Barker was released from the hospital after two hours of treatment and observation for a concussion and an eye that had swollen shut. During the trial, Barker also testified that his face was badly swollen after the attack and that he lost vision in one eye for three weeks. He also stated that he suffered recurring headaches since the attack, though tests have detected no medical cause for them.

Five of the students — Robert Bailey, Jr., Mychal Bell, Carwin Jones, Bryant Purvis, and Theo Shaw — were initially charged with assault, though the sixth — Jesse Ray Beard — was charged as a juvenile because he was 14 at the time. However, District Attorney Walters increased the assault charges to attempted second-degree murder, provoking protests from black residents that the charges, which could result in the defendants being imprisoned past age 50, were disproportionate to the crime.

Mychal Bell, a juvenile, had been previously convicted of four violent crimes. Bell served probation for a battery that occurred December 25, 2005, and he was subsequently convicted of another battery charge and two charges of criminal damage to property. On June 26, 2007, the first day of trial for defendant Mychal Bell, Walters agreed to reduce the charges for Bell to aggravated second-degree battery and conspiracy to commit aggravated second-degree battery. Bell's attorney later admitted to CNN that, because of Bell's record, the initial second-degree murder charges were within the limit of what district attorney Walters was legally allowed to charge.

The 150 people called for jury duty included black citizens, but only 50 people appeared, and none of them were black. The jury found Bell guilty and faced the possibility of up to 22 years in prison. The judge scheduled sentencing for September 20, 2007.

Following the trial, Bell's new defense attorneys, Louis Scott and Carol Powell-Lexing, requested that a new trial on the grounds that Bell should not have been tried as an adult and that the trial should have been held in another parish. A request to lower Mychal Bell's $90,000 bond was denied on August 24, 2007, due to his juvenile record.

On September 14, 2007, Louisiana's Third Circuit Court of Appeals overturned Bell's battery conviction ruling that he shouldn't have been tried as an adult. Louis Scott, Bell's attorney, has indicated that the charges are dropped for now, but also noted that the situation may change depending on what path the prosecution takes. On September 20, 2007, the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeal ordered that a hearing be held within 72 hours to decide whether Bell can be released.

On September 4, 2007, charges against Carwin Jones and Theo Shaw were reduced to aggravated second-degree battery and conspiracy, as were those of Robert Bailey, Jr., on September 10. Though Bell's conviction was overturned, the charges against the other four teenagers remained unaffected because they were over seventeen at the time of the incident, thus making them adults under Louisiana law.

Following an order by the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeal, a hearing was held on September 21, 2007, to determine whether to set bond for Bell. The judge in the hearing denied the request for Bell to be freed while his appeal is being reviewed.


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