JENA, La. – The youngest "Jena Six" defendant has been released from house arrest in the central Louisiana town to live with an attorney in New York State and spend the rest of the summer getting ready for his junior year in high school.
Jesse Ray Beard, 17, was scheduled to leave Louisiana on Thursday evening, attorney David Utter said.
"It's just an effort to get him set up to go to school," Utter said Thursday. "All the schools we're looking at require that he pass English 2 to get into 11th grade and play athletics. We've got to get this done. It wasn't happening in Jena."
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On Wednesday, Utter told state District Judge Tom Yeager that Beard will also be an intern in the law firm where his host, attorney Alan Howard, works. He will also train for football and participate in a local high school's football camp.
Beard is one of six black Jena High School students accused of beating a white classmate in December 2006. All six originally were charged with attempted murder in a case that drew one of the biggest civil rights demonstrations in years to the central Louisiana town in September 2007. The charges were reduced to aggravated second-degree battery.
Only one defendant, Mychal Bell, has been tried. He was originally convicted on an adult charge of aggravated second-degree battery, but an appeal court overturned the verdict and ordered him tried as a juvenile. He pleaded guilty to a juvenile charge of second-degree battery and is living with a foster family in Monroe.
Utter said Beard has been under house arrest for 16 months for previous juvenile adjudications and for alleged probation violations. He has been allowed to leave his home only for church on Sunday.
Beard was adjudicated last year on charges of simple battery, simple assault and simple criminal damage to property dating as far back as April 2005, when he was 14.
LaSalle Parish Assistant District Attorney Steven Kendrick said the plan amounted to an undeserved vacation.
But Ellen Tuzzolo, senior youth advocate at Juvenile Justice Project Louisiana, testified that Beard is supervising younger relatives while his mother fights cancer, rather than getting the supervision and support he needs.
Jena High Principal Glen Joiner said Beard had received 13 disciplinary actions last school year and was recommended for expulsion, which was later overturned.
Utter said going to New York State gives Beard a chance to get the supervision and role models he needs. "He knows with one slip-up, he's going to Jena High next year, or worse — juvenile prison," Utter told the judge.
Yeager said Bell must return to Jena by Aug. 11 so he can start school there on Aug. 14.
Utter said the defense team hopes the judge will let Beard go to school elsewhere. "It is important for him to get a fresh start," he said after the hearing.