According to the Chicago Tribune, not only has Mychal Bell taken the plea deal offered, but Walters is likely to offer similar deals to the rest of the Jena Six in order to avoid taking their cases to trial.

HOUSTON – The district attorney in the racially-charged Jena 6 case in Louisiana agreed to a plea bargain Monday that sharply reduced the charges against the first of the six black teenagers who was facing trial, while attorneys for other defendants said the prosecutor appeared eager to avoid taking their cases to court as well.

LaSalle Parish District Atty. Reed Walters, whose initial decision to charge the black teenagers with attempted murder for beating a white youth was condemned as excessive by civil rights leaders, dropped a conspiracy charge against Mychal Bell, 17, and agreed to let him plead guilty to a juvenile charge of second-degree battery, with a sentence of 18 months and credit for time he has served in jail over the last year.

It looks like the media may have played an inadvertent but crucial role in making this outcome possible. Walters offered the deal after several media companies won a verdict granting them access to the trial, which would have any attempt by Walters to railroad the Six again visible to a national audience.

District Judge J.P. Mauffray approved the plea agreement Monday afternoon, just three days before Bell’s trial in juvenile court was to have begun. Bell’s attorneys said Walters offered them the plea agreement last Thursday, a week after a coalition of U.S. media companies successfully sued Mauffray to force him to open the trial to the public and the press.

“This case has been a very difficult chapter in the town’s life and for the individuals involved,” said David Utter, an attorney for another of the Jena 6 defendants who was charged as a juvenile. “My sense is that the district attorney would like to close this chapter now.”

Utter and attorneys for several other Jena 6 defendants confirmed that they were engaged in plea negotiations with the district attorney, heralding a potential conclusion to the controversial case that drew more than 20,000 civil rights protesters to Jena in September and earned the town a portrayal in the national media as a racist backwater.

Of course there are other possibilities. An Op-Ed by Richard Cohen and John Tyre of the Southern Poverty Law Center had already revealed Walters’ record as a hothead, having been previously removed from a case by the Louisiana Supreme Court for threatening a defendant. Defense lawyers said that the evidence they had gathered in order to force Walters and Judge Muffray, (whose verdict against Mychal Bell was overturned as unconstitutional) to recuse themselves would have “embarrassed both men.”

Before Walters made his plea bargain offer, Bell’s attorneys said they had been preparing pre-trial motions seeking to recuse both the prosecutor and Mauffray from the case. The attorneys said evidence contained in those motions would have embarrassed both men.

“A trial would be very bad for the town, very bad for Reed Walters, very bad for anybody in Jena associated with the process, and it could turn out very bad for the defendants as well,” said Alan Bean, head of a small civil rights group called Friends of Justice who was the first activist to call attention to the Jena case. “It had the potential for being a perfect storm in which everybody lost.”

As a result of the plea agreement, Bell could be released as early as June.

There should be no doubt about what has happened here. The people who gathered in Jena on September 20th changed the lives of the Jena Six. This case could have ended like most others do, with six young black men’s lives being tossed away like so much litter, but it didn’t. It didn’t because people were willing to fight for them. The Jena Six aren’t heroes, and that’s actually the point. This could have happened to any one of us. Those of us who spoke up, we spoke up because we recognized that if their rights could be violated, ours could too.

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