Seventeen-year-old Mychal Bell, the last of the so-called "Jena Six" to remain in custody, was released from custody on Thursday after a juvenile-court judge set his bail at $45,000 — lower than the previously set amount of $90,000 — CNN reports. A doctor who lives about 135 miles away from Jena posted $5,400, the required 12 percent bond that had been set by a judge.
On Friday (September 28), it was revealed that the bail had been posted by Dr. Stephen Ayers, a stranger who said he felt compelled to help, according to The Associated Press. Ayers, who says he isn't politically active, found out about the situation in Jena, Louisiana, through a patient who had participated in the marches last week. While Ayers is black, he said race wasn't his motivation in posting bail. "I was concerned about what was going on up there and thought the district attorney was a bit harsh in his treatment of Mr. Bell. I really thought it was overkill," he said.
The release followed an earlier announcement from LaSalle Parish District Attorney Reed Walters that he would not appeal a higher court's decision to try Bell in juvenile court. Bell had previously been convicted on two felony counts as an adult, and he still faces trial as a juvenile.
"While I believe that a review would have merit," Walters said in a press conference, "I believe it is in the best interest of the victim and his family not to delay this matter any further and move it to its conclusion.
"They [the Barker family] are onboard with what I decided," he added.
The only member of the Jena Six to stand trial, Bell was accused — along with five other black teens — of beating white classmate Justin Barker in December. Bell was originally convicted on two felony counts, second-degree battery and conspiracy to commit same, and has been incarcerated since his arrest more than nine months ago.
Walters insisted that his dropping of the appeal was not in any way influenced by the swarm of protesters who descended upon the sleepy Louisiana town of Jena within the last two weeks — a vocal group thought to number upward of 15,000 that decried Bell's fate as a prime example of unequal American justice. The fight between Bell and Barker came at the tail end of a month of violence, incited when two nooses were hung from an oak tree on Jena High School property. The white students who committed the hate crime did not face criminal charges.
For Bell, the decision by Walters not to appeal the decision means that he can't be held behind bars past his 21st birthday. If he had been tried as an adult, however, he could have faced a maximum of 15 years in prison.
In related news, Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco vowed in an announcement on Wednesday to protect the families of the accused after several white-supremacist Web sites posted the names and addresses of the six black teens.
[This story was originally published at 7:58 p.m. ET on 09.27.2007]