"Jena 6" Teen Has Verdict Vacated
FARAI CHIDEYA, host:
From NPR News this is NEWS & NOTES. I'm Farai Chideya.
There is no shortage of news today. This morning, President Bush nominated retired Federal Judge Michael Mukasey to head the Justice Department. We'll bring you more on Judge Mukasey as his confirmation gets underway.
In other news, O.J. Simpson's back on the wrong side of the law. He was arrested yesterday in Las Vegas. He apparently tried to steal sports memorabilia that he claims was stolen from him. We'll have more on that a little later in today's show.
But first, parents of the Jena Six got good news on Friday. Mychal Bell, the first of the six to be tried and convicted of aggravated battery and conspiracy had both convictions thrown out. A Louisiana appeals court ruled that Bell should not have been tried as an adult. Bell is cleared of all charges for now, but prosecutors may retry him.
At the time, he and five black friends allegedly beat a white classmate. The victim of the assault was released from a local hospital within hours, but five of the six alleged assailants were charged as adults with attempted second degree murder and conspiracy. That has stirred protest from parents and civil rights leaders.
For a reaction to the latest news in the case, we spoke with Tina Jones. She is the mother of Bryant Purvis, one of the Jena Six.
Ms. TINA JONES (Mother of Bryant Purvis): I hope it's a good sign, but with Mychal he was a juvenile so they were charging him as an adult. But Bryant was 17 at the time. You know, I hope it had tremendous impact on the rest of the kids but I'm - I don't know, until my lawyer get a call and then I get one, I don't know.
CHIDEYA: What charges does your son face at this point?
Ms. JONES: Bryant is the last one that hasn't been arraigned and, as to this day, he's still charged with attempted second degree murder and conspiracy to commit the same.
CHIDEYA: Do you know how long he could get for those charges?
Ms. JONES: They said 80 to life.
CHIDEYA: Do you feel that all of the people who have come to Jena to rally, to protest, to ask for a reconsideration of this case, have made a difference in what's happened?
Ms. JONES: You know, I think if it wasn't for, you know, these outsiders or -are as they call them or, you know, this media and people, you know, that have their eyes on the town and on that courthouse, I mean, I personally feel that these kids would already be in jail along with Mychal.
CHIDEYA: What about some of the people who have come down - did you get meet Reverend Jesse Jackson?
Ms. JONES: Yes, I did.
CHIDEYA: Tell me about your conversation with him.
Ms. JONES: You know, he just, you know, he spoke, you know, to all of us to let us know that he was, you know, fighting, you know, the fight with us and, you know, to stay strong. And as Reverend Al Sharpton said, until they drop the charges and do what's right with these kids, they will continue to come to this town. So...
CHIDEYA: Is your son, Bryant, afraid? Is he afraid of spending the rest of his life in jail?
Ms. JONES: Yes, he is afraid. I mean, anybody would be who - I mean, you know, to spend 80 to 100 years in jail for a simple school fight, I mean, who wouldn't be scared, you know?
CHIDEYA: What about you? Are you sad, angry, depressed? What's happening to you?
Ms. JONES: Right now, I'm more concerned about getting the charges dropped on my son. You know, I have time to be mad, angry, whatever. I have time for that later. But right now, my main concern is getting these charges drop on my son, and I will continue to focus on that until the charges are dropped, you know? But, I mean, the DA and the judge has put a sour taste in my mouth, also the school system.
CHIDEYA: How much do you interact with the other parents of the Jena Six?
Ms. JONES: Pretty much daily.
Ms. JONES: We're very, very close.
CHIDEYA: At this point, do you have a common sort of team who advises you on what to do and who to speak to or are you just kind of out there by yourself most of the time, trying to make decisions about who you should talk to and what actions you should take legally?
Ms. JONES: Right now, we're pretty much just using our own discretion in speaking to people. You know, we had a discussion about a week or so ago about, you know, having a mediator for us to do those type of things.
CHIDEYA: Just on a practical level, how much do you think it's going to cost for your son's legal defense? And are people making donations through civil rights organizations, churches, any groups?
Ms. JONES: We have funds coming in from everywhere, you know, different organizations and different things. And as to, you know, how much it's going to cost me, I don't know because, you know, there's, you know, my lawyer might need a private investigator, you know, it's - there's all kind of options out there of things that they're going to need to work with - close to get these charges dropped. So, you know, I can't say right now, but, you know, I just thank God for the people that sent in money, that - because we are able to make payments, you know, from that.
CHIDEYA: We talked to one of the school board members from Jena, and he said that blacks and whites get along fine and that things have really improved in, you know, the past couple dozen years. What do you think of that? Do you think that Jena has improved? And if so, how do people get along now?
Ms. JONES: Things have always been the same here. You know, there's always issues of black and whites, or black and white fights, or whatever. I don't know what he's talking about improvements, but, you know, as long as I've been living here, things have always been the same. I haven't noticed any changes in anything.
CHIDEYA: Well, we want to thank you so much for speaking with us, Ms. Jones.
Ms. JONES: Mm-hmm.
CHIDEYA: You take care.
Ms. JONES: Yeah, thank you. Bye-bye.
Ms. JONES: Tina Jones is the mother of Bryant Purvis, one of the Jena Six.
We've also reached out to District Attorney Reed Walters but he has yet to return our call.
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