I declined to be interviewed for this article, but I don’t mind telling you what I told Sherrell Stewart when she called me.
Reed Walters doesn’t want to take any of the Jena cases to trial. He doesn’t want to risk the media flare-up that a trial would inevitably bring, and he doesn’t want to give defense attorneys a chance to tell the story from the defendants’ perspective.
On the other hand, reducing the charges to something that would be acceptable to the defendants would smack of defeat.
So Walters does nothing, the media lets this sleeping dog lie, and the Jena 5 do their best to live beneath a cloud of doubt.
Complicating everything is the fact that Mr. Walters has appealed the recusal of Judge JP Mauffray and the appeals court is in no rush to rule on the issue.
Two Years Later, Jena Six Youths Still Await Day in Court
Friday, December 05, 2008, 2:29 pm
By: Denise Stewart, BlackAmericaWeb.com
Two years after a fight with a white schoolmate landed six black youths in Jena, Louisiana in jail, most of the young men have not had their day in court, and chances are that day will not happen this year, lawyers say.
Only one of the youths known as the Jena Six, Mychal Bell, has been sentenced and is currently in the custody of the Louisiana juvenile system. Others involved in the Dec. 4, 2006 fight in the small town are moving on with their lives, but haunted by a cloud of prosecution.
Earlier this year, attorneys for the remaining five youths were successful in getting Judge J.P. Mauffrey removed from the case. But LaSalle Parish District Attorney Reed Walters appealed that decision, attorneys said, and that matter is yet to be settled by a Louisiana appellate court.
In Jena, and in other parts of the country, there is little talk of the case that, in September 2007, stirred one the largest civil rights protests in recent history. Five of the six students charged, including Bell, originally faced attempted murder charges. Bell was convicted in adult court and could have received 15 years in prison, but the conviction was thrown out by an appellate court that said he should have been tried as a juvenile.
“A lot of people are no longer concerned about the Jena Six,” says Tony Brown, a radio talk show host in Alexandria, La. “A majority of the people on the legal side and on the public side want this thing to go away,” Brown told BlackAmericaweb.com. “It’s been a public relations nightmare for the state.”
In addition to the huge march and rally in 2007, where tens of thousands bused in to Jena to protest, the House Judiciary Committee last year convened a hearing on the case, and it captured headlines around the world.
Through his show, Brown helped turn the spotlight on the plight of Bell, Carwin Jones, Jesse Ray Beard, Theo Shaw, Bryant Purvis and Robert Bailey Jr. The youths were arrested and charged with felonies following a fight with a classmate, Justin Barker. The prosecutor in the case said the fight was a vicious assault that sent Barker to the hospital. That fight followed several other incidents in and around Jena High School, including the hanging of a noose. No charges were brought against white youths who hung the noose.
Last December, Bell agreed to a plea bargain. He’s been attending Carroll High School in Monroe, La., and will graduate this month, said Louis Scott, Bell’s attorney.
“He has better than a 3.0 average, and he’s looking to go the college and play football,” Scott told BlackAmericaweb.com.
Still there are hurdles. Because Bell still is technically in the custody of the juvenile system, lawyers may have to get approval for him to attend a college in a different area, Scott said.
When he was at Jena High School, Bell was a standout on the football team and had been considered a prospect for college. He had petitioned the Louisiana State High School Athletic Association to play this fall. That request was denied, so his chances of playing one more season to try to impress college recruiters were wiped out.
“Even though he wasn’t on the team at Carroll High School, he helped with team, sort of as an assistant,” Scott said. “The team still gave him an award.”
Two of the other Jena Six youths were able to play football this year.
Bailey played at Shaw High School in Georgia, and Beard played ball at a prep school in the Northeast, their attorneys said.
“We’re proud of the way Robert has handled himself. Either moving to Georgia has changed him or living in Jena didn’t help him,” his attorney Jim Boren told BlackAmericaweb.com.
Bailey is getting offers from some small colleges to play ball, and he’s kept his grades up, Boren said.
Beard, now 17, is in his junior year of high school. “His goal is to finish high school and go on and play college ball,” his attorney David Utter told BlackAmericaweb.com.
Efforts to reach Purvis, Jones, Shaw or their attorneys were unsuccessful.
Boren, the attorney for Bailey, said the case is complicated by the situation with the judge and the district attorney.
First, a decision must be made on who will hear the case. Also, a decision must be made on another request lawyers have made to have the district attorney removed from the case, Boren said.
Lawyers for the defendants have argued that their clients can not get a fair trial in LaSalle Parish with Walters and Mauffrey because of the established network between the judge and the district attorney’s office.
The case has moved along at glacier speed, Boren said, “but it does me no good to be bothered over the speed of the judicial process. It’s the best system we have at this time.”
Reed Walters, the district attorney is out of the office this week.
“Because of the number of motions that have been filed, the number of lawyers involved and the fact that LaSalle Parish has only one court, it has been very difficult to schedule the case for trial,” his spokesman, Bill Furlow, told BlackAmericaweb.com in an email. “The district attorney is eager to move forward as rapidly as is possible.”
Brown said he too looks forward to the day when the youths’ cases are settled. He predicts that the remaining five will not have to go to court.
“The D.A. is just prolonging the inevitable. I don’t think any of the remaining cases will ever see a courtroom,” Brown said. “Change is coming to America. I’m just waiting on them to get the memo in Jena.”