JENA, La. – Five members of the Jena Six pleaded no contest Friday to misdemeanor simple battery and won't serve jail time, ending a case that thrust a small Louisiana town into the national spotlight and sparked a massive civil rights demonstration.
State District Judge Tom Yeager then sentenced the five, standing quietly surrounded by their lawyers, to seven days unsupervised probation and fined $500. It was a far less severe end to their cases than seemed possible when the six students — all of whom are black — were initially charged with attempted murder in the 2006 attack on Justin Barker, a white classmate. They became known as the "Jena Six," after the central Louisiana town where the beating happened.
Jena 6' beating case wraps up with plea deal…
By MARY FOSTER, Associated Press Writer Mary Foster, Associated Press Writer – Fri Jun 26, 2009
"I just thank God that it's all over," said John Jenkins, father of Carwin Jones. "It's been a long, painful journey for everyone on both sides of this thing."
Barker and his family and friends sat without expression throughout the hearing. Barker's attorney said he graduated and is now an oil field worker. The family did not comment.
As part of the deal, one of the attorneys read a statement from the five defendants in which they said they knew of nothing Barker had done to provoke the attack.
"To be clear, not one of us heard Justin use any slur or say anything that justified Mychal Bell attacking Justin nor did any of us see Justin do anything that would cause Mychal to react," the statement said.
The statement also expressed sympathy for Barker and his family, and acknowledged the past 2 1/2 years had "caused Justin and his parents tremendous pain and suffering, much of which has gone unrecognized."
Barker spent several hours in the emergency room after the attack, but was discharged and attended a school event the next night.
By pleading no contest, the five do not admit guilt but acknowledge prosecutors had enough evidence for a conviction. LaSalle Parish District Attorney Reed Walters said in a statement that he could have won convictions but wanted to end the matter for Barker.