Mychal Bell was released from prison today on $45,000 bail after the district attorney said he would no longer seek an adult trial for the youth, who was 16 years old when he was charged as an adult with attempted second-degree murder in the beating of a fellow high school student following escalating racial tensions in the town of Jena, La.
Bell's release comes one week after tens of thousands of people descended on the town for a protest against unequal justice in the case, which began after white students hung nooses from a tree in a public schoolyard after black students sat under it (the white students apparently considered it their own. The students who hung the nooses faced only a brief suspension from school, sparking anger among the town's black residents. That led to a number of other confrontations between whites and blacks, with blacks consistently facing harsher punishment for their actions.
The incident that led to the charges against Bell involved the beating by Bell and five other black defendants of a white classmate, Justin Barker, who reportedly taunted the blacks about an earlier incident in which the black youths were threatened by an armed white man; when one of the black youths wrestled the gun away, the black youth was charged by local authorities with theft of a firearm. Barker was knocked unconscious and suffered bruises and a swollen and bloodied eye in the beating incident, but later the same day he attended a school event, raising questions about the appropriateness of the second-degree murder charges eventually brought by District Attorney Reed Walters.
Walters has faced other criticism for his actions in the case. Following a series of interracial fights sparked by the noose incident, the school held an assembly at which Walters urged students to stop "fussing" over an "innocent prank," and reportedly threatened them that "with one stroke of my pen, I could make your lives disappear." The National Lawyers Guild has called for an investigation of Walters as well as the judge in the case.
At a news conference today, Walters said that last week's demonstration had no influence on his decision to drop the adult charges against Bell. He also said that only God kept the protest peaceful, the Associated Press reports:
"The only way -- let me stress that -- the only way that I believe that me or this community has been able to endure the trauma that has been thrust upon us is through the prayers of the Christian people who have sent them up in this community," Walters said.
"I firmly believe and am confident of the fact that had it not been for the direct intervention of the Lord Jesus Christ last Thursday, a disaster would have happened. You can quote me on that."
Bell will now face a new trial under the juvenile justice system.