‘Jena Six’ defendant pleads not guilty
Lawyer says 18-year-old was 30 feet away from the fighting
JENA, La. – The last of the so-called Jena Six to be arraigned in the beating of a white high school student pleaded not guilty Wednesday to reduced charges of battery and conspiracy.
The trial for Bryant Purvis, 18, was set for March. Purvis had initially been charged with attempted second-degree murder, but in a brief court hearing that charge was reduced to charges of second degree-aggravated battery and conspiracy.
If convicted, he could be imprisoned for up to 22 years.
The six black teens known as the "Jena Six" were arrested after a December 2006 attack on Justin Barker, who was knocked unconscious.
Their case fueled allegations that prosecutors were treating blacks more harshly than whites, because charges weren’t filed against three white teens accused of hanging nooses in a tree at the high school shortly before the attack.
Purvis’ lawyer, Darrell Hickman, said the teen was "30 feet away from the melee when it took place" and that the charges against Purvis should be dismissed. If they aren’t, Hickman said he will ask to move the trial.
"There has just been too much that has gone on here in Jena," he said. "It would be impossible for everyone to put aside those feelings."
Case gets public scrutiny
In September, the case prompted one of the largest civil rights demonstrations in years as the Revs. Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson led an estimated 20,000 people through the streets of this northeast Louisiana town of about 3,000 residents.
Now a senior attending classes in Texas, Purvis said he’s concentrating on his studies and basketball, and that he hopes to attend college. He would not say where in Texas he is living.
Four of the other accused teens also had the charges against them reduced after initially being charged with attempted second-degree murder. Charges against the sixth teen, who was booked as a juvenile, have been sealed.
Mychal Bell is the only one of the six to stand trial. He was convicted in June of aggravated second-degree battery and conspiracy. The convictions were later overturned and the case sent to juvenile court.
Bell, now 17, was sent to jail last month for a probation violation in an unrelated juvenile court case.