The judge overseeing the criminal cases for the remaining Jena Six defendants was removed against his will Friday for making questionable remarks about the six black teenagers charged. They're accused of a December 2006 attack on a white high-school classmate in the central Louisiana town of Jena that led to widespread protests.
Judge J.P. Mauffray Jr. had acknowledged calling the teens "troublemakers" and "a violent bunch" but insisted he could be impartial. Judge Thomas M. Yeager, who was asked by defense attorneys to review the case, found there was an appearance of impropriety and took Mauffray off the case.
"The right to a fair and impartial judge is of particular importance in the present cases," Yeager wrote.
Six black teens were arrested and initially charged with attempted murder and conspiracy to commit murder in connection with a Dec. 4, 2006, attack on fellow Jena High School student Justin Barker, who is white. The charges were later reduced.
Jesse Ray Beard, Robert Bailey Jr., Carwin Jones, Bryant Purvis and Theo Shaw now face aggravated second-degree battery charges. Beard is charged as a juvenile.
Mychal Bell is the only member of the group to have been tried. He originally was charged as an adult with attempted murder. The charge was reduced before a jury convicted him last June of aggravated second-degree battery.
In September, an appeals court overturned the verdict and ordered Bell tried as a juvenile. He pleaded guilty to a juvenile charge of second-degree battery. He now lives with a foster family in Monroe, La., and is attending school.
Bell's attorney, Louis Scott, said he would also ask to have Mauffray removed from Bell's case. Although Bell's plea will remain unchanged, Scott said he did not want Mauffray to oversee the teen's probation.
The case aggravated racial tensions in the tiny town and led to a massive civil rights demonstration last September.
Mauffray was out of town, court officials said, and would not comment on the ruling.
District Attorney Reed Walters said he might appeal the decision.
"Whatever ultimately happens concerning the judge, this does not mean these cases go away," he said. "It will just take longer to get them to trial. However, I may seek to have the decision overturned."
An attorney for Beard said he hoped the Louisiana Supreme Court would quickly appoint a new judge to hear the remaining cases.
"Everyone is entitled to a fair judge, not the judge they want," attorney David Utter said. "It mystifies me why the district attorney would fight this."
From The Associated Press.