Mychal Bell, the 17-year-old accused of hitting a white classmate in the famous “Jena Six” case pled guilty yesterday to assaulting Justin Barker. Bell and five other black teenagers were charged with attempted murder for beating Barker last December.
Bell had initially been convicted as an adult by an all-white jury and sentenced to 21 years in prison. At the time the assault occurred, he was 16-years-old. In Louisiana, the legal adult age is 17.
Bell’s conviction caused some 20,000 people to protest in Jenna, Louisiana and was overturned by an appeals court. Although released in September, he violated his probation in October and was sent to a juvenile facility.
As part of the plea agreement, conspiracy charges were dropped against Bell. The charges were reduced from aggravated battery to second-degree battery.
Bell has already spent one year in jail. If his case had gone to trial on Thursday, he would have had to stay at a juvenile facility until he turned 21. Instead, Bell will be sent to a group home and could return to public school as early as next week. He also must pay for Barker’s medical bills and $935 in court expenses.
The Jenna 6 Case and conviction sparked a huge racial debate as to whether black suspects are treated more harshly under the law. Prior to the assault on Barker, three white teenagers hung nooses on a tree after black teenagers got permission to sit under the tree. No federal charges were pressed against the white teens, although the incident was not unlike a hate crime.
Three months later, six teenagers–Mychal Bell, Robert Bailey Jr., Carwin Jones, Bryant Purvis, Theo Shaw and Jesse Ray Bear were arrested for allegedly beating Barker. They were charged with second-degree murder.
Recent studies show that prosecuting juveniles as adults tends to harm them more than help them and that these juveniles were more likely to commit crimes again. In the United States, about 200,000 defendants younger than 18 are dealt with through the adult criminal court system because of their offense or their age.
“Jena 6” Teen Admits Fault in Plea Deal, USA Today, December 3, 2007
Prosecuting kids as adults: Some states ponder changes, USA Today, December 1, 2007
Related Web Resources:
The Case of the Jena Six: Black High School Students Charged with Attempted Murder for Schoolyard Fight After Nooses Are Hung from Tree, Democracy Now!, July 10, 2007
Juvenile Court Dept., Mass.gov
In Massachusetts, if your child is arrested for committing any crime, you should hire an experienced criminal defense attorney who knows how to properly handle juvenile cases and is familiar with both the juvenile and adult court system. There may be steps that a good juvenile criminal defense lawyer can take to make sure that your son or daughter’s case stays within the juvenile court system.
Contact Altman & Altman LLP and ask for your free consultation with one of our experienced Massachusetts criminal defense lawyers.