JENA, La. -- A Black teen's conviction in a racial beating case has been overturned by an appeals court in Louisiana, which said the boy should not have been tried as an adult.
Mychal Bell is one of six Black Jena High School students charged in the beating of a White student amid racial tensions, and one of five originally charged as adults with attempted second-degree murder.
The charges brought widespread criticism that Blacks were being treated more harshly than Whites in this Southern town. The case drew international attention, and one by one the charges against the teens have been reduced.
Bell, who was 16 at the time of the beating, had been convicted of aggravated battery, which could have sent him to prison for 15 years.
"There is no substitute for victory. Giddy is the right word," his defense attorney, Bob Noel, said at a news conference.
Racial animosity flared in the mostly White town about a year ago, when a Black student sat under a tree that was a traditional gathering place for Whites. A day later, three nooses were found hanging from the tree, evoking for some the image of lynchings in the old South. Racial fights and confrontations culminated in the December attack on White student Justin Barker.
Teenagers can be tried as adults in Louisiana for some violent crimes, such as attempted murder, but not for aggravated battery. 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 ruling Friday was unlikely to affect four other teenagers also charged as adults because they were 17 years old at the time of the fight and, legally, no longer juveniles in Louisiana, said local attorney George Tucker.
Another Bell attorney, Louis Scott, said he did not know when his client would get out of jail.
"We don't know what approach the prosecution is going to take -- whether they will re-charge him, where he would have to be subjected to bail all over again or not," Scott said.
District Attorney Reed Walters said in a statement delivered to the weekly Jena Times that he would appeal.
He must appeal within two weeks. Bell cannot be released from jail unless Walters lets that period lapse without an appeal or the Supreme Court rules in Bell's favor, Sheriff Carl Smith said.
Bell had been scheduled to be sentenced this coming Thursday, the same day that civil rights leaders planned to rally in support of the teens.
"Although there will not be a court hearing, we still intend to have a major rally for the Jena Six and now hopefully Mychal Bell will join us," the Rev. Al Sharpton said in an e-mailed statement.
Said the Rev. Jesse Jackson: "The pressure must continue until all six boys are set free and sent to school, not to jail."
--The Associated Press