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Mychal Bell of 'Jena 6' released on bail

  • Story Highlights
  • Bell released from custody after juvenile court judge sets bail at $45,000
  • Prosecutor won't appeal ruling in Bell case
  • Bell and five other black teens are accused of beating white student Justin Barker
  • Beating followed white students hanging nooses from a tree on school grounds
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(CNN) -- Mychal Bell, a black teenager accused of beating a white classmate and who was the last of the "Jena 6" behind bars, was released from custody Thursday after a juvenile court judge set his bail at $45,000.

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Supporters surround Mychal Bell on Thursday after his release at the LaSalle Parish courthouse.

Bell's release followed an announcement from LaSalle Parish District Attorney Reed Walters, who said he would not appeal a higher court's decision moving Bell's case to juvenile court.

Wearing a blue striped golf shirt and jeans, Bell walked out of the LaSalle Parish courthouse a week after an estimated 15,000-plus demonstrators marched through Jena -- a town of about 3,000 -- to protest local authorities' handling of the teens' case.

"We do not condone violence of any kind, but we ask that people be given a fair and even chance at the bar of justice," the Rev. Al Sharpton said outside the courthouse.

"Tonight, Mychal can go home, but Mychal is not out of the juvenile process. He goes home because a lot of people left their home and stood up for him," he said.

"Let America know -- we are not fighting for the right to fight in school. We're not fighting for the right for kids to beat each other. We're fighting to say that there must be one level of justice for everybody. And you cannot have adult attempted murder for some, and a fine for others, and call that equal protection under the law. Two wrongs don't make one civil right."

Demonstrators at last week's march were protesting how authorities handled the cases of Bell and five other teens accused of beating fellow student Justin Barker.

Many said they were angry that the students, dubbed the Jena 6, were being treated more harshly than three white students who hung nooses from an oak tree on Jena High School property.

The white students were suspended from school but did not face criminal charges. The protesters said they should have been charged with a hate crime.

Bell's attorney Lewis Scott said the teen was moved from jail to a juvenile facility earlier Thursday.

Walters said his decision not to appeal was based on what he believed was best for the victim in the case.

"While I believe that a review would have merit ... I believe it is in the best interest of the victim and his family not to delay this matter any further and move it to its conclusion," Walters told reporters. Video Watch the Rev. Al Sharpton discuss the teen's release »

He said last week's march, which included Sharpton and Martin Luther King III, did not influence his decision.

Bell, now 17, was the only one of the Jena 6 behind bars. His bond previously was set at $90,000.

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 juvenile court. The 3rd Circuit Court of Appeal in Lake Charles, Louisiana, did the same with Bell's battery conviction in mid-September.

Prosecutors originally charged all six black students accused of being involved in beating Barker with second-degree attempted murder and conspiracy. Walters reduced charges against at least four of them -- Bell, Robert Bailey Jr., Carwin Jones and Theo Shaw -- to battery and conspiracy.

Bryant Purvis awaits arraignment. Charges against Jesse Ray Beard, who was 14 at the time of the alleged crime, are unavailable because he's a juvenile.

Wednesday, Gov. Kathleen Blanco announced that Louisiana State Police officers will protect the families of the Jena 6 and investigate any threats they have received. A white supremacist Web site posted the names and addresses of the six black teens after last week's march, calling on followers to "let them know justice is coming."

Thursday, the FBI said it had been made aware of allegations of threats.

"Threats are taken seriously, and as these investigations are ongoing we cannot comment further," said Sheila Thorne of the FBI's office in New Orleans, Louisiana.

The December 4 attack on Barker came after months of racial tension, including at least two instances of fighting in the town, sparked originally when three white teens hung the nooses.

Walters has said there was no direct link between the hanging of the nooses and the schoolyard attack, and defended the prosecutions ahead of last Thursday's peaceful march. Blanco defended the prosecutor Wednesday, saying, "He has a solid record and is highly respected among his peers."

Walters also addressed the stress and notoriety the town has been subjected to, saying the only way he and other residents "have been able to endure the trauma that has been thrust upon us is through the prayers of the Christian people who have sent them up in this community."

He also suggested that some kind of "disaster" was averted when thousands of marchers came to Jena last week.

"I firmly believe and am confident of the fact that had it not been for the direct intervention of the Lord Jesus Christ last Thursday, a disaster would have happened," Walters said.

"The Lord Jesus Christ put his influence on those people, and they responded accordingly," he said, without explaining exactly what he meant.

Soon after the district attorney spoke, a local reverend took issue with his comments.

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"Obviously, we are serving two different gods here," the Rev. Donald Sidley said. "My Bible says that we should do -- we should be loving, love your neighbor as yourself.

"For him to try and separate the community like he is and then using Christ Jesus to influence the people that Jesus is working on their side, well, that's -- that's absurd. ... God is god of the human race," said Sidley, of the New Evergreen Church. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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