ATLANTA (Reuters) - A Louisiana prosecutor has dropped an appeal in the case of a 17-year-old accused of assaulting a school mate in a decision that could hasten the release of the youth at the center of civil rights protests.
District Attorney Reed Walters said he would not pursue an appeal to the Louisiana State Supreme Court to have Mychal Bell tried as an adult in the case, Marie Centanni, a spokeswoman for Gov. Kathleen Blanco, said on Thursday.
The decision would likely hasten Bell’s release, Centanni said in comments echoed by a spokeswoman for civil rights leader Al Sharpton, who helped lead a mass protest in the small town of Jena last week.
“It means we might get him out today. We would be able to get bail,” said Rachel Noerdlinger.
Tens of thousands of black Americans from around the United States marched in the central Louisiana town last week calling for Bell to be released and charges to be dropped against the “Jena 6,” in a protest reminiscent of the U.S. civil rights era.
Bell and five other teenagers were charged in December over an assault on a schoolmate at Jena high school. Walters, district attorney for LaSalle Parish, raised the charges for five of the teenagers including Bell to attempted murder.
The move sparked protests that the teenagers were charged excessively on grounds that were racially motivated and the six became a symbol for wider concerns about discrimination against young black males by the U.S. criminal justice system.
White students hung nooses from a tree at the school last August in a move reminiscent of lynchings of blacks.
Protesters, amid escalating racial tensions, said it was unfair that they were not prosecuted over the act.
Charges against the teenagers were reduced and Bell was convicted after a trial in June of aggravated second-degree battery.
Last week’s mass protest was timed to coincide with his sentencing but Louisiana’s Third Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the conviction on the grounds that he could not be tried as an adult.
Walters initially said he would appeal that ruling but changed his mind after an intervention from Blanco.