JENA, La. — No media throng or thousands of supporters greeted Mychal Bell on Tuesday as he and his parents walked into the LaSalle Parish courthouse. Details of why Bell was in court were unavailable since his case now is being handled in juvenile court and is not open to public scrutiny.
“I can’t tell you about what just happened or what is next,” said Louis Scott, one of Bell’s attorneys, as he left the building. Bell was the first of six black students to be tried for an alleged attack on Justin Barker, a white classmate at Jena High School. His case and those of the other defendants — now known as the “Jena Six” — have prompted comparisons to the struggles of people like Rosa Parks.
The Rev. Al Sharpton, who helped organize a massive protest in the small central Louisiana town after news of the charges spread, has called the demonstration the beginning of the 21st-century civil rights movement. Sharpton, the Rev. Jesse Jackson and other critics accused District Attorney Reed Walters, who is white, of prosecuting blacks more harshly than whites. They note that he did not file charges against three white teens suspended from the high school over allegations they hung nooses in a tree on campus not long before fights between blacks and whites, including the attack on Barker.
Since the rush of activity leading up to Bell’s publicized release last week, things have “finally quieted down,” Bell’s family has said. The number of reporters stopping by each day has waned. The phone calls have begun to lessen. Bell was given an ankle monitoring device before his release Thursday for the home confinement that is part of the terms of his release, Scott said.
Although Scott wouldn’t comment about Tuesday’s hearing, he did confirm that the “restrictions” on Bell’s release would not change for the time being. The hearing, which started around 9:30 a.m., lasted more than four hours. Bell was accompanied by his parents — Marcus Jones and Melissa Bell — and his attorneys. Also on hand were Barker and his parents — David and Kelli Barker.
Bell and the other five defendants have been charged in connection with the Dec. 4 attack on Barker that left him unconscious and bleeding with facial injuries. According to court testimony, he was repeatedly kicked by a group of students at the high school. Barker was treated for three hours at a local emergency room and was able to attend a school function that evening, authorities have said.
Bell, Robert Bailey Jr., Carwin Jones, Bryant Purvis and Theo Shaw were all initially charged — as adults — with attempted second-degree murder and conspiracy to commit the same. A sixth defendant was charged in the case as a juvenile. Bell, who was 16 at the time of the incident, was convicted in June of aggravated second-degree battery and conspiracy to commit that crime. Walters reduced the charges just before the trial. Since then, both of those convictions were dismissed and tossed back to juvenile court, where they now are being tried.
Charges against Bailey, 18, Jones, 19, and Shaw, 18, have been reduced to aggravated second-degree battery. Purvis, 18, has not yet been arraigned. Details about the juvenile’s case, like Bell’s, are unknown as it is being handled in juvenile court, though he has returned to school and is participating in athletics. Bailey, Jones, Purvis and Shaw must face their charges in adult court, as they were all 17 or 18 at the time of the incident.
Last week, state District Judge J.P. Mauffray Jr. set Bell’s bond at $45,000, and Bell was released after spending more than 10 months behind bars. He was greeted by close to 50 family members and friends, Sharpton, Martin Luther King III, Bishop T.D. Jakes and more than 100 members of the media.