Jena 6 case wrapped up with plea deal

  • By MARY FOSTER
  • Associated Press writer
  • Published: Jun 26, 2009 – UPDATED: 4:10 p.m

JENA (AP) — Five black students pleaded no contest Friday to misdemeanor simple battery and won’t serve jail time, ending a case that thrust a small Louisiana town into the national spotlight and sparked a massive civil rights demonstration.

The five, standing quietly surrounded by their lawyers, were sentenced to seven days unsupervised probation and fined $500. It was a far less severe end to their cases than seemed possible when the six students were initially charged with attempted murder in the 2006 attack on Justin Barker, a white classmate. They became known as the “Jena Six,” after the central Louisiana town where the beating happened.

As part of the deal, one of the attorneys read a statement from the five defendants in which they said they knew of nothing Barker had done to provoke the attack.

“To be clear, not one of us heard Justin use any slur or say anything that justified Mychal Bell attacking Justin nor did any of us see Justin do anything that would cause Mychal to react,” the statement said.

The statement also expressed sympathy for Barker and his family, and acknowledged the past 2½ years had “caused Justin and his parents tremendous pain and suffering, much of which has gone unrecognized.”

None of the defendants spoke to reporters.

By pleading no contest, the five do not admit guilt but acknowledge prosecutors had enough evidence for a conviction.

Charges against Carwin Jones, Jesse Ray Beard, Robert Bailey Jr., Bryant Purvis and Theo Shaw had previously been reduced from attempted murder to aggravated second-degree battery. All but Shaw were assessed $500 in court costs. The judge did not tack that punishment on to Shaw’s case because he stayed in jail for almost seven months, unable to raise bail, following his initial arrest.

Each paid the fine and court costs immediately. The payment of restitution to Barker was also part of the deal, but the amount was not released.

The only member of the group to serve jail time was Bell, who pleaded guilty in December 2007 to second-degree battery and was sentenced to 18 months in jail.

The severity of the original charges brought widespread criticism and eventually led more than 20,000 people to converge in September 2007 on the tiny central Louisiana town of Jena for a major civil rights march.

Racial tensions at Jena High School reportedly grew in the months before the attack. Several months before attack, nooses were hung in a tree on the campus, sparking outrage in the black community. Residents said there were fights, but nothing too serious until December 2006 when Barker was attacked.

Friday’s criminal proceedings were followed by a brief civil hearing to settle the lawsuit by Barker against the group.

UPDATED AT 4:25 P.M.: Five members of ‘Jena Six’ sentenced in beating case; part of civil lawsuit settled

Town Talk staff • June 26, 2009

JENA — The criminal cases of five members of the “Jena Six” were settled today, June 26, when they pleaded no contest to simple battery in a plea deal and apologized to the victim in the case.

Pleading no contest – in effect, they are not challenging the charges – were Jena Six members Jesse Ray Beard, Robert Bailey Jr., Carwin Jones, Bryant Purvis and Theo Shaw. They had faced charges of aggravated second-degree battery, except for Beard, whose charge was unknown because of his juvenile status.

They were given seven days probation, fined $500 each (except for Shaw) and ordered to pay $500 in court costs.

Also today, the civil lawsuit filed by the family of Justin Barker, the beating victim, was settled as far as the Jena Six defendants are concerned.

The amount of the settlement that the Barkers will receive is not being divulged. Medical bills for Justin Barker topped $18,000.

The Barkers’ lawsuit against the LaSalle Parish School Board has not been settled.

The battery charges were in connection with the beating of fellow student Barker at Jena High School in December 2006. The Jena Six case drew the nation’s attention and much criticism as many claimed the six teens – originally charged with attempted murder – were charged too harshly because they are black and the victim is white.

Mychal Bell, the most well-known of the Jena Six and the one who is said to have hit Barker first, pleaded guilty nearly a year after the incident to a juvenile second-degree battery charge and was sentenced to 18 months in the state’s custody, which was placement with a Monroe foster family.

In their statement of apology today, the five defendants said, “We appreciate the opportunity to express our sympathy to Justin Barker for his injuries” and to his parents.

The defendants said they had not heard any slur from Barker that would initiate the attack and said Barker did nothing to provoke being hit initially by Bell.

They said they recognize the pain and suffering caused to Barker and anguish to his family, and added, “We wish Justin and his family success.”

As part of their probation, they are not to have any contact with the Barkers and cannot publicly or privately disavow their statement apologizing to the Barkers. They are also to avoid criminal activity.

Ninth Judicial District Judge Thomas Yeager of Rapides Parish handled the case today after being appointed as judge after now-retired 28th Judicial District Judge J.P. Mauffray was recused last August for an “appearance of impropriety.”

According to witness statements and police reports, the six defendants are accused of hitting Barker, knocking him unconscious, and then kicking him while he was lying on the ground.

More than 20,000 people came to the community of Jena – with a population of about 3,000 – for a rally on Sept. 20, 2007. That rally has been categorized by some as the biggest civil rights demonstration in decades.

UPDATED AT 7:55 P.M.: Five members of ‘Jena Six’ sentenced in beating case; part of civil lawsuit settled

By Robert Morgan • rmorgan@thetowntalk.com • June 26, 2009

JENA — More than 2.5 years after six black teenagers were charged with beating a white fellow student at Jena High School, criminal charges against the remaining five defendants were resolved Friday, June 26.

In a plea agreement that had been approved by both sides ahead of time, the defendants – Carwin Jones, Jesse Ray Beard, Robert Bailey Jr., Bryant Purvis and Theodore Shaw – pleaded “no contest” each to a charge of simple battery, a misdemeanor.

While a plea of “no contest” is not a guilty plea, it is an acknowledgement “that the prosecution could present facts that would justify the trier of fact to convict should there be no controverting evidence believed.”

Criminal charges were reduced from second-degree battery, a felony that could have resulted in a sentence of $2,000 fine and/or up to five years in prison.

Under terms of the plea agreement, the five young men agreed to pay fines of $500 each and court costs of $500 each, with exception of Shaw.

Because he had spent seven months in jail, one more month than the maximum sentence for the misdemeanor, Shaw was only ordered to pay the court cost.

In addition to the fines, the five men were placed on unsupervised probation for seven days; ordered to pay restitution to the victim of the attack, Justin Barker; ordered to avoid criminal activity; and ordered not to have any contact with Barker or his parents.

Ninth Judicial District Judge Tom Yeager of Rapides Parish, who sat on the bench as ad hoc judge in the LaSalle Parish case, also said, “You are not to publicly or privately disavow the statement read in this court.”

As a condition of the agreement, each of the defendants had to acknowledge that he agreed to a statement prepared on their behalf and read by Jim Boren, an attorney representing Bailey.

Bailey was a juvenile at the time of the incident and was ruled delinquent rather than guilty, per judicial standards.

In the statement, the defendants expressed their sympathy to Barker and his parents for his injuries and pointed out there was no justification for the attack, blaming it on Mychal Bell.

“To be clear, not one of us heard Justin use any slur or say anything that justified Mychal Bell attacking Justin nor did any of us see Justin do anything that would cause Mychal to react,” the defendants’ statement read.

Bell “pleaded guilty to second-degree battery as a juvenile in December 2007 and has completed his period of custody in the Office of Youth Development,” LaSalle Parish District Attorney Reed Walters said in a “fact sheet” explaining the plea agreement.

Walters also said, “A requirement of the district attorney’s plea offer was that it must be accepted by all five remaining defendants because it was the desire of the Barker family to end the entire affair; failure to resolve the case for one or more of the defendants would not have accomplished that.”

In his statement of facts, Walters said, “On Dec. 4, 2006, Justin Barker was exiting the Jena High School gymnasium when, without warning, he was knocked unconscious. Justin Barker did nothing to provoke or cause this attack.

“Immediately after being knocked unconscious, Justin Barker was jumped by several individuals who kicked and or hit him while he was lying on the ground unconscious.”

In a prepared statement following the hearing, Walters said, “The road to reach this day has been long and painful, especially for the victim in this case, Justin Barker, and his family. While I believe it would have been appropriate and possible to convict these defendants of felony offenses, this action today concludes the matter for Justin, and that is what we all wanted.”

In their statement, the defendants said, “We hope our actions today help end this nightmare for Justin, Mr. and Mrs. Barker, and all others affected, including the Town of Jena.”

Each of the defendants and their attorneys shook Barker’s hand and expressed their apologies to David and Kelli Barker, his parents.

Immediately following conclusion of the criminal proceeding, which lasted about 40 minutes, the civil case filed by the Barkers against the defendants was convened.

A previously arranged settlement was accepted by attorney Henry Lemoine on behalf of the Barkers.

Terms of the settlement were not made public.

Meanwhile, residents of Jena went about their normal lives, some saying they were unaware of Friday’s proceedings, although they were expecting them at some point.

Cecil Carroll Jr. of Jena said, “I think people just want it to be over.”

Carroll said he is a dispatcher with an oil company and talks with people from all over the country.

“You’re almost afraid to say where you’re from,” he said, adding the incident is still prominent in many people’s minds, giving an unfavorable view of the whole town.

Delores Almond of Jena said, “I don’t know what the outcome was, but I’m glad it’s done. It seems like it’s went on for a while.”

Almond said television coverage of the incident painted a negative view of Jena, making it seem as if everyone in town was a bad person.

“We have some bad people, but not everybody,” she said.

Dean and Chuck LaRue, owners of The Old Country Store on La. Highway 28, said, “As far as we’re concerned, it’s been over with a long time ago.”

Dean LaRue said the couple moved to Jena just after the attack and only became aware of it after reading news articles.

Neither of them is a native of LaSalle Parish, and “we chose to move here. Jena is a good place,” she said.

Allen Murray of Trout said, “That (plea agreement) don’t have effect on the town.
There’s just certain people in LaSalle Parish who run things, and they’re going to run the parish the way they want, regardless.”

Murray said the court proceedings were “not going to affect me at all.”

A previously arranged settlement was accepted by attorney Henry Lemoine on behalf of the Barkers.

Terms of the settlement were not made public.

Meanwhile, residents of Jena went about their normal lives, some saying they were unaware of Friday’s proceedings, although they were expecting them at some point.

Cecil Carroll Jr. of Jena said, “I think people just want it to be over.”

Carroll said he is a dispatcher with an oil company and talks with people from all over the country.

“You’re almost afraid to say where you’re from,” he said, adding the incident is still prominent in many people’s minds, giving an unfavorable view of the whole town.

Delores Almond of Jena said, “I don’t know what the outcome was, but I’m glad it’s done. It seems like it’s went on for a while.”

Almond said television coverage of the incident painted a negative view of Jena, making it seem as if everyone in town was a bad person.

“We have some bad people, but not everybody,” she said.

Dean and Chuck LaRue, owners of The Old Country Store on La. Highway 28, said, “As far as we’re concerned, it’s been over with a long time ago.”

Dean LaRue said the couple moved to Jena just after the attack and only became aware of it after reading news articles.

Secret settlement reached in ‘Jena Six’ civil suit

By Robert Morgan • rmorgan@thetowntalk.com • June 27, 2009

JENA — A settlement for an undisclosed amount of money was approved Friday by ad hoc Judge Ronnie Lewellyn in a lawsuit filed on behalf of the family of “Jena Six” beating victim Justin Barker.

Barker was attacked Dec. 4, 2006, at Jena High School in an incident that led to charges against six black fellow students who became known nationally as the “Jena Six.”

The criminal case was resolved earlier Friday when the remaining five defendants — Carwin Jones, Jesse Ray Beard, Bryant Purvis, Theodore Shaw and Robert Bailey Jr. — pleaded no contest to simple battery and agreed to fines and seven days of probation, among other stipulations.

Terms of the civil lawsuit settlement were not released due to a confidentiality clause in the agreement.

Kelli Barker, the victim’s mother, said she hopes her family’s lives can now get back to normal.

Justin Barker is now employed as a motorman for H&P Drilling where his 25-year-old brother, Paul, is also employed.

Justin said the only thing he was not satisfied with was that “the true story wasn’t ever put out to begin with.”

Asked what the truth was, Kelli Barker said, “The truth is they knocked him unconscious, stomped on him and stood on his head.”

She said the last couple of years have been “very difficult,” especially right after the attack when the family was getting numerous telephone calls.

“The phone rang all the time. We just didn’t answer it,” she said.

She added, “We want to thank the town of Jena and everybody who stood behind us all these years.”

Henry Lemoine, the Barker family’s attorney, said the only issue remaining is a civil lawsuit by the Barkers against the LaSalle Parish School Board.

In a comment to reporters outside the LaSalle Parish Courthouse, Lemoine praised the people of Jena in the way they handled the publicity and events surrounding the case, including a civil rights march that drew an estimated 20,000 people from around the country in September 2007.

“Not every community could have handled that and not been divided,” Lemoine said, adding, “I think Jena is one of our finer communities.”

Speaking on behalf of the defendants, attorney Jim Boren said, “I think what you heard in court says everything. They’re all (defendants) going to college. They’re doing well.””We’re pleased with the final result,” Boren said.

David Utter of the Southern Poverty Law Center said, “I would like to point out, but for decent lawyers, things would not have turned out for these young men the way they have.”

“I don’t think any person can look at what happened to Mychal Bell and say he was treated fairly,” Utter said.

He represented Beard, as did Chicago attorney Stanley Adelman, who made a point to note “these things don’t just happen in Louisiana.”

He said there are injustices in Chicago and other places around the country as well.

Darrel Hickman, who represented Purvis, said, “You can put down that it cost these young men more than $1,000 (in fines and court costs). They had offers from four-year colleges (to play football) before this. That was all off the table.”

Purvis is attending Ranger Junior College in Ranger, Texas, he said.

Bailey reportedly plans to enroll in Grambling State University in the fall; Shaw said he is attending Delta State Community College in Monroe; Jones is attending Tyler Junior College in Texas; and Beard is enrolled in Canterbury, a private school in Connecticut.

Atlanta Journal-Constitution