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Court: It's 'premature' to consider motion to release Jena 6 defendant

  • Story Highlights
  • Thousands expected to march in Jena on Thursday to protest charges
  • Appeals court does not set a date for hearing a motion to release Mychal Bell
  • Bell one of six teens charged with beating up a white classmate
  • Tension at Jena High flared when white students hung nooses from campus tree
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(CNN) -- A Louisiana appeals court ruled it was too early to consider a motion to release a black teenager who allegedly took part in beating up a white classmate in Jena, Louisiana, last year.

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Mychal Bell, 17, is accused with five others of severely beating Justin Barker in a school fight.

The Tuesday ruling is the latest turn in the racially charged saga of a group known as the Jena 6 -- six black teens initially charged with attempted murder after they allegedly knocked out classmate Justin Barker and stomped him during a school fight. Five of the teens were charged as adults.

Civil rights groups and other organizations have marshaled thousands of people to march on Jena on Thursday, a day originally slated for 17-year-old Mychal Bell's sentencing hearing on battery and conspiracy convictions.

However, a district judge earlier this month tossed out Bell's conviction for conspiracy to commit second-degree battery, saying the matter should have been handled in the juvenile court. On Friday, the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals in Lake Charles, Louisiana, did the same with Bell's battery conviction.

A three-judge panel ruled Tuesday, however, that it would not consider a motion to free Bell from prison.

"The motion for release from custody, filed by the defendant in this court, is premature," the panel ruled without setting a date for considering the motion.

The future of Bell's case is up to the district attorney, who must decide whether to refile the charges in juvenile court, Bell's attorney Bob Noel said last week.

Charges against four of the teens -- Bell, Carwin Jones, Theodore Shaw and Robert Bailey -- have been reduced to battery and conspiracy. Shaw and Jones have not gone to trial. Bailey has pleaded not guilty to the charges and his trial is scheduled for November 26.

Bryant Purvis and an unidentified juvenile remain charged with attempted murder and conspiracy to commit murder.

Advocates of the Jena 6 say the story began well before the December 4 beating. They say it began in September when three white students decided to hang nooses from a tree on campus.

In September 2006, a black student asked the vice principal if he and some friends could sit under an oak tree where white students typically congregated.

Told by the vice principal they could sit wherever they pleased, the student and his pals sat under the sprawling branches of the shade tree in the campus courtyard.

The next day, students arrived at school to find three nooses hanging from those branches.

According to The Town Talk in nearby Alexandria, the school's principal recommended expulsion for those behind the nooses. Instead, the newspaper reported, a school district committee suspended three white students for three days for hanging the nooses, a gesture written off as a "prank."

Racial tensions flared. The district attorney was summoned to address the student body. Off-campus fights were reported. On November 30, someone torched the school's main academic building. The arson remains unsolved, but many suspect it was linked to the discord.

Four days after the arson, several students jumped Barker, knocking him unconscious before stomping and kicking him.

Parents of the Jena 6 say they heard Barker was hurling racial epithets. Barker's parents insist he did nothing to provoke the beating.

Barker was taken to a hospital with injuries to both eyes and ears as well as cuts. His right eye had blood clots, said his mother, Kelli Barker. He was treated and released that day.

Bails for the Jena 6 were set at between $70,000 and $138,000. All but Bell posted bond. The judge has refused to lower his $90,000 bail, citing Bell's criminal record, which includes four juvenile offenses -- two simple battery charges among them. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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