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Judge in Jena 6 case keeps records closed

By The Associated Press
12.11.07

NEW ORLEANS — A week after one of the so-called Jena Six defendants pleaded guilty to second-degree battery in the beating of a white schoolmate, the judge in the case said the records would remain closed, pending an appeal.

Judge J.P. Mauffray Jr. will appeal to the state 3rd Circuit Court of Appeal an order that opened the hearing and records in Mychal Bell’s case.

“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 on Dec. 6.

State District Judge Thomas Yeager’s order to open all proceedings and records concerning Bell is not yet final, said Dan Zimmerman, who represents the Associated Press and 24 other news-media organizations that sued.

“There’s not much we can do at this minute,” Zimmerman said. “We’ll just have to wait until it gets to the appeals court.”

Bell, 17, was sentenced to 18 months in a juvenile facility on Dec. 3. He was given credit for the 10 months he had already served.

Bell was charged with taking part in an attack last December on Justin Barker, a white student at Jena High School. Barker spent several hours in the emergency room after the attack, but was discharged and attended a school event later in the day.

Barker and his parents filed a civil suit last 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.

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 — the so-called Jena Six — sparked a huge civil-rights demonstration in Jena in September.

The activists said prosecutors treated blacks more harshly than whites, and pointed to an incident three months before the attack on Barker in which three other white teens were accused of hanging nooses from a tree at the high school. The three were suspended from school but never criminally charged; LaSalle Parish District Attorney Reed Walters has said there was no state crime to charge them with.

The AP and other news organizations went to court seeking permission to attend hearings in Bell’s case, and to review transcripts of previous hearings and other court records in the central Louisiana case.


Update
'Jena 6' proceedings should have been open
Louisiana appeals court finds judge didn't have authority to close juvenile courtroom, but doesn't say if news media can have access to records in Mychal Bell case. 11.09.08

Previous
Jena 6 teen's case must be open, La. court rules
Judge sides with news media, says all proceedings against Mychal Bell should be public even though he is being tried as a juvenile. 11.29.07

Related

La. high school bans 'Free the Jena 6' T-shirts

Administrators say disruption caused by shirts supporting six black students accused of beating white schoolmate — not the shirts themselves — was reason for ban. 08.30.07

Jena, La., rally harkens back to civil rights era marches

But unlike landmark protests of ‘50s and ‘60s, demonstration to support six black teenagers has festive, laid-back air. 09.21.07

Tenn. student forced to change 'Free the Jena Six' T-shirt
Suburban Nashville school official tells girl message on shirt could 'cause a problem.' 10.10.07

Feds charge man who displayed nooses with hate crime
After demonstration in Jena, La., white man drove past black marchers with nooses dangling from back of his pickup truck. 01.28.08

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