12-07-2016  8:10 pm      •     

TEXARKANA, Texas (AP) _ A Texas appellate court has upheld the felony conviction of Shaquanda Cotton, the Black East Texas teenager freed in March amid heightened racial tensions in her small town and a shakeup of the state's troubled juvenile prison system.
The ruling by the 6th Appellate District Court in Texarkana on Thursday doesn't immediately affect Cotton, who is now 16 and remains free, other than preserve the conviction on her record.
Found guilty in March 2006 of shoving a teacher's aide at Paris High School, Cotton had sought to overturn her conviction on grounds that her defense lawyer was inadequate. She was 15 when a judge sentenced her to a state youth prison in Brownsville, where she served one year.
Gary Waite, the attorney who handled Cotton's appeal, did not immediately return a phone message seeking comment.
Before her release, Cotton's imprisonment won national media attention. She had no prior criminal record, and activists say the fact that the same judge sentenced a White 14-year-old girl to probation for arson signaled evidence of racial bias in Paris, which sits near the Oklahoma border.
Juvenile prison reform advocates also rallied around Cotton as a symbol of teens worthy of release from the Texas Youth Commission, which is undergoing sweeping reforms enacted by the Legislature after a sex scandal rocked the agency.
Prosecutors in Cotton's case have maintained they tried to keep Cotton out of juvenile prison but say the judge in the case had no other options.
--The Associated Press

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