Last year, more than 20,000 people marched on Jena, LA, to protest the treatment of the six young, black men now known as the “Jena 6“. The six teens were being tried for attempted murder after a fight on school grounds where Justin Barker, a white student, was beaten, which followed the hanging of nooses in the school’s courtyard and subsequent race-based conflicts.
On Monday, lawyers for the youngest of the Jena 6, Jesse Ray Beard, who was 14 at the time, filed a motion to remove Judge J.P. Mauffray Jr. and District Attorney (D.A.) Reed Walters from any future involvement in juvenile court matters involving him. Mauffray and Walters served as the judge and prosecutor, respectively, in the Jena 6 cases and Beard’s attorneys argue their prejudice during and after the proceedings have betrayed an unfair bias against Beard.
“Millions of people turned their attention to the Jena 6 last year, but at the end of the day the system itself has to go on trial,” said James Rucker, Executive Director of ColorOfChange.org, the 400,000-member group that advocated on behalf of the Jena 6. “Reed Walters and Judge Mauffray have behaved outrageously at every turn and violated the most basic principles of justice. There can be no justice in Jena with these men as its agents.”
Louisiana law prohibits Beard from having a jury trial since he’s a juvenile. Judge Mauffray will be the decider of fact, but defense attorneys argue he is too prejudiced to preside over the case. Attorneys have asked Mauffray to step down from the case, and if he does not, they will seek a public hearing to present their case in support of their motion.
“When a judge shows strong bias and a district attorney has a clear conflict of interest, a motion to recuse is not only fitting, it is required,” said Charles Ogletree, professor and executive director of the Criminal Justice Institute at Harvard Law School. “Given the sad history of the case and the allegations in the motions, the DA and judge should avoid the appearance of bias and voluntarily step aside to provide Jesse Ray Beard and the rest of the Jena 6 a fair trial.”
The Jena 6, which attracted sympathy and garnered petition signers and monetary donations, have also endured a series of public embarrassments.
In February, Bryant Purvis was arrested following an altercation with a fellow student he believed had vandalized his car. In October, he and another Jena defendant, Carwin Jones, posed “like rap stars” at the BET Hip Hop Awards. Robert Bailey Jr. posted pictures of himself on MySpace with a wad of $100 bills stuffed in his mouth, igniting interest in the accounting of the donated legal funds.