The Associated Press and Gramblinite reporter Rae Dawn Johnson contributed to this article.After months of widespread criticism, the conviction of Mychael Bell was overturned earlier today. The state appeals court tossed out the aggravated battery conviction that could have sent Bell to prison for 15 years. Bell was charged after the beating of a white classmate in Jena.
Bell was 16 at the time of the December beating, and the Third Circuit Court of Appeal in Lake Charles said that he should not have been tried as an adult on the battery charge.
Bell is one of six black Jena High School students charged in an attack on fellow student Justin Barker, and one of five originally charged as adults with attempted second-degree murder.
While teenagers can be tried as adults in Louisiana for some violent crimes, including attempted murder, aggravated battery is not one of those crimes. Defense lawyers had argued that the aggravated battery case should not have been tried in adult court once the attempted murder charge was reduced.
“The defendant was not tried on an offense which could have subjected him to the jurisdiction of the criminal court,” the three-paragraph ruling said.
The case “remains exclusively in juvenile court,” the Third Circuit ruled.
The charges brought widespread criticism from Jesse Jackson to Rev. Al Sharpton to Marin Luther King III. All were planning to be in attendance for a peaceful rally in support of the teens on Sept. 20, the sentencing date for formerly convicted Bell.
Students from several area universities were supposed to be in attendance, including Grambling State University, along with universities from afar such as Howard University.
Shortly after the news broke, students from GSU voiced their pleasure over the overturned convictions.
“I thought that it was wrong for what they did to them in the first place,” said Krystle Cravens, a sophomore nursing major. “I’m very excited. That’s good news. I was in support of the Jena Six.”
Deshon Beard, a freshman from Jena, was also happy.
“It will give him a chance to go to college and show his talents now,” Beard said. Bell was an all-state football player as a sophomore.
For others, the overturned conviction was symbolic.
“I felt that it’s victorious for African Americans all over the world,” said Andria Warren. “It also sends a message that you can’t do wrong and get away with it.