ATLANTA (Reuters) - A teenager accused of assaulting a white schoolmate in a small Louisiana town was freed on bail on Thursday, one week after African-Americans staged a major protest in the town over the case.
Mychal Bell, 17, was released on a $45,000 bond, the Town Talk newspaper near Jena, Louisiana, reported on its Web site. After his release, Bell, who had been in jail nine months, held a news conference in Jena with civil rights leader Al Sharpton who has campaigned on his behalf.
Bell is the most high-profile among six teenagers accused over an assault on a white teenager at Jena high school in December. Five of the six were charged with assault but the charge was later revised upward to attempted murder.
The decision sparked protests the teenagers were charged excessively on grounds that were racially motivated. The six became a symbol for wider concerns about discrimination against young black males by the U.S. criminal justice system.
Tens of thousands of black Americans from across the United States marched in the central Louisiana town last week.
They called 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.
Last August, white students hung nooses, which symbolize the lynching of blacks, from a tree at the school that was supposedly reserved only for white students.
Protesters said it was unfair the white students were not prosecuted over that act while Bell had been in jail since December.
Charges against the teenagers were reduced from attempted murder and Bell was convicted after a trial as an adult 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 he could not be tried as an adult.
Earlier on Thursday, LaSalle parish District Attorney Reed Walters said he had dropped an appeal aimed at preventing Bell being tried as a juvenile rather than as an adult.
The decision came after an appeal to him by Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco.