NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A state judge has agreed to open the juvenile trial of one of the black teenagers known as the Jena Six.
District Judge J.P. Mauffray agreed Thursday to open Mychal Bell's trial but noted in a court filing that he was not required to open pretrial hearings.
Bell, 17, is set for trial Dec. 6 on charges of aggravated second-degree battery and conspiracy in an attack last December on Justin Barker, a white student at Jena High School. Barker spent several hours in the emergency room, but attended a school event later that day.
Typically, juvenile trials are closed to the public. The Associated Press and 24 other news organizations filed a lawsuit seeking full access to Bell's case.
"There will be several hearings between now and the trial," said Carol Powell Lexing, one of the attorneys for Bell. "There are a number of issues to be tackled before the trial itself."
Mauffray disqualified himself from hearing the media's suit because he is a defendant in it.
In his court filing, Mauffray also asked District Judge Thomas Yeager to dismiss the news organizations' lawsuit. Yeager is to hear the lawsuit Wednesday.
An attorney for the news organizations said all the hearings in Bell's case should be open.
"It's fine as far as it goes," Dan Zimmerman, an attorney representing the coalition of media that is suing, said Friday. "But the press and public have already been excluded from hearings. They should not be left out of the others that will come up between now and the trial."
The charges against Bell and five others sparked a huge civil-rights demonstration in Jena in September. Critics accused Lasalle Parish District Attorney Reed Walters of treating blacks more harshly than whites, because his office didn't file charges against three white teens accused of hanging nooses in a tree at the high school shortly before the attack on Barker.
Walters maintained that state law blocked him from charging anyone over the nooses.
In Washington on Friday, protesters marched through the streets around the Justice Department to demand federal intervention in the case and enforcement of hate crime laws against those who hang nooses in public.
In addition to The Associated Press, news organizations seeking to open Bell's case are The New York Times; USA Today; the Chicago Tribune; the Los Angeles Times; the Houston Chronicle; the San Antonio Express-News; The Beaumont Enterprise; The Dallas Morning News; CNN; ABC News; WDSU-TV and WWL-TV in New Orleans; WAPT-TV in Jackson, Miss.; WFAA-TV in Dallas; KHOU-TV in Houston; KVUE-TV in Austin, Texas; KENS-TV in San Antonio; The (Houma) Courier; The (Thibodaux) Daily Comet; The (Alexandria) Town Talk; The (Monroe) News-Star; The (Shreveport) Times; The (Lafayette) Daily Advertiser and The (Opelousas) Daily World.
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