Judges Differ Over Opening 'Jena 6' Records

By Mary Foster
Associated Press
Sunday, December 9, 2007

NEW ORLEANS -- The judge in the battery trial of one of the "Jena Six" defendants said the records will remain closed, pending an appeal.

Rapides Parish District Judge Thomas M. Yeager has ordered all proceedings and records concerning Mychal Bell's case to be opened, but LaSalle Parish District Judge J.P. Mauffray Jr. will appeal the order to the state 3rd Circuit Court of Appeal.

"In the interim, we have advised the clerk and his staff that the judgment is not yet final, and that they should not permit access to the record in the two Mychal Bell proceedings, nor any other juvenile proceeding," Donald R. Wilson, Mauffray's attorney, wrote Thursday.

Yeager's order came after the Associated Press and 24 other media organizations sued to review transcripts of previous hearings and other court records in the central Louisiana case.

Bell, 17, pleaded guilty to second-degree battery in the beating of a white schoolmate, Justin Barker. He was sentenced Dec. 3 to 18 months in a juvenile facility and was given credit for the 10 months he had already served.

Bell originally was charged as an adult with attempted murder. That charge was reduced before a jury convicted him in June of aggravated second-degree battery. In September that verdict was thrown out, and Bell was ordered tried as a juvenile.

The charges against Bell and five others sparked a huge civil rights demonstration in Jena in September. Protesters said that prosecutors treated blacks more harshly than whites, and pointed to an incident three months before the attack on Barker in which three white teens were accused of hanging nooses from a tree at the high school. The three were suspended from school but not criminally charged; LaSalle Parish District Attorney Reed Walters has said there was no state crime to charge them with.

Barker and his parents filed a civil suit this week against the LaSalle Parish School Board, the parents of the young men accused of beating him, and the adult members of the Jena Six.

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