Article published Oct 11, 2007
‘Jena Six’ defendant Mychal Bell taken back into custody after juvenile court hearing
By Abbey Brown
After two weeks of freedom, Mychal Bell is back behind bars.
Bell, the most well-known of the “Jena Six,” was taken back into custody today after a juvenile court hearing in Jena, according to Bishop J.L. George of Sicily Island, who has been ministering to the family throughout this process.
Bell, 17, was held in an adult detention facility for about 10 months awaiting trial and then sentencing after a June conviction in connection with the beating of a fellow student at Jena High School. He was released on bond on Sept. 27.
George said Bell now has been “locked back up” in a juvenile detention facility.
The Rev. Al Sharpton, president of National Action Network, said Bell is facing 18 months in a juvenile facility, which Sharpton called “cruel and unusual punishment.”
Sharpton, who has supported the Jena Six and worked for Bell to be released on bond last month, issued this statement tonight:
“Tonight, Mychal Bell was placed by the same judge in Jena, Louisiana, in a secured juvenile facility for 18 months after convicting him for two prior pending cases.
“We feel this was a cruel and unusual punishment and is a revenge by this judge for the Jena Six movement. His parents were also charged with the cost of all court costs and witness costs and will have to pay for him in the facility. I have committed that National Action Network will financially support the parents through this unusual financial strain imposed upon them.”
Sharpton added: “I call upon the governor of Louisiana, who has the overseeing powers over the juvenile criminal justice system, to meet with us to immediately intervene on this obviously biased decision by the same judge. I intend to raise this next Tuesday, October 16th, in the proceedings of the United States House Judiciary Committee Hearings on Jena in Washington, D.C.”
Five other students were also arrested in the case of the “Jena Six,” which drew national attention after attempted murder charges were filed in the beating case at Jena High School.
Little is known about today’s juvenile hearing that went from 1 p.m. until just after 8 p.m. After a gag order issued earlier this month by 28th Judicial District Court Judge J.P. Mauffray against Bell, his family and the attorneys involved, they have been prevented from talking to the press about the case, family has said.
George said he isn’t sure where Bell is being taken, but he said it is a juvenile facility.
Melissa Bell, Mychal Bell’s mother, left the LaSalle Parish Courthouse shortly after Thursday’s hearing ended to check on her other children while Marcus Jones, Bell’s father, stayed at the courthouse with George and other family and supporters.
“It’s been rough,” George said of how the family is taking the news of their son’s incarceration in a juvenile facility. “It’s real rough for them.”
Bell is the first of the six black teens referred to as the Jena Six to face trial. He was initially convicted in adult court of aggravated second-degree battery and conspiracy to commit that crime after LaSalle Parish District Attorney Reed Walters reduced his charges from attempted murder.
Bell, Robert Bailey Jr., Jesse Ray Beard, Carwin Jones, Bryant Purvis and Theo Shaw were all initially charged with attempted murder after their arrest in connection with the attack on white student Justin Barker on Dec. 4 at Jena High.
According to court documents and testimony, Bell knocked Barker out with a punch and then all six suspects “kicked and stomped” his unconscious body. Barker was treated in a hospital emergency room for three hours.
Charges against Bailey, Jones and Shaw have been reduced to aggravated second-degree battery and conspiracy to commit that crime. Purvis hasn’t yet been arraigned.
Details about Beard’s case are unknown as he was 14 when arrested, and his case is being handled in the juvenile court system.
After Bell’s conviction, his family fired the court-appointed attorney, and a group of lawyers from Monroe took on his case pro bono. They appealed both convictions.
Mauffray agreed with Bell’s attorneys when they said the adult court never had jurisdiction over the conspiracy charge. He vacated that conviction and sent the case back to juvenile court. But he contended that the adult system retained jurisdiction on the battery charge.
The 3rd Circuit Court of Appeal disagreed and ruled that Bell should have faced the battery charge in the juvenile court as well. When Walters decided on Sept. 27 not to appeal that decision and the conviction was vacated and sent to the juvenile court, Mauffray set bail at $45,000.
Bell was released that day and had been on house arrest, the conditions of which aren’t known.
Initially, Bell’s bond was set as high as $130,000, according to court documents, but it had been reduced to $90,000 before his adult conviction.
After his conviction, his attorneys requested a bond hearing, but bond was denied, with Mauffray citing Bell’s status of being on probation when arrested and four other juvenile adjudications for violent crimes. He had been adjudicated on two charges of battery and two of criminal damage to property.