NEW ORLEANS – Five of six black teens accused of beating a white high school classmate in a case that led to the biggest civil rights protest in decades will plead guilty in a deal expected to be finalized this week, Louisiana court officials involved with the case told The Associated Press on Wednesday.
The six students were initially charged with attempted murder in the 2006 attack on Justin Barker and became known as the "Jena Six," after the town where the beating took place.
Charges against Carwin Jones, Jesse Ray Beard, Robert Bailey Jr., Bryant Purvis and Theo Shaw were reduced to aggravated second-degree battery.
Court officials, who asked not to be identified because the agreement was not yet public, told the AP that those five will plead to lesser charges Friday but would not be specific. Officials also would not talk about penalties.
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A sixth defendant, Mychal Bell, pleaded guilty in December 2007 to a misdemeanor second-degree battery charge and was sentenced to 18 months in jail.
Bill Furlow, a spokesman for LaSalle Parish District Attorney Reed Walters, confirmed the hearing for the remaining five defendants, but said Walters would have no comment.
Bailey's attorney, James Boren, wouldn't confirm the deal but said, "you certainly want to be in court on Friday."
The severity of the original charges brought widespread criticism and eventually led more than 20,000 people to converge in September 2007 on the tiny central Louisiana town of Jena for a major civil rights march.
Racial tensions at Jena High School reportedly grew throughout in the months before the attack. Several months before attack, nooses were hung in a tree on the campus, sparking outrage in the black community. Residents said there were fights, but nothing too serious until December 2006 when Barker was attacked.
Barker was knocked unconscious as the lunch period was ending. He was hit and kicked by the defendants as he lay on the ground, according to court testimony. Pictures from the emergency room show his face was swollen and bloodied, but he was not admitted and was able to attend a school function that same night.
Barker graduated that spring and is now working on an oil rig, according to Henry Lemoine Jr., the attorney representing Barker in the civil cases.
Bell graduated in May and is currently trying to find a college where he could play football, according to his attorney Louis Scott. Bell was considered a top football prospect before the attack and Scott said he was being widely recruited.
Meanwhile, Lemoine said Barker's family agreed on a settlement Wednesday with Bailey, Shaw and Jones.
His family filed a lawsuit in state court against the LaSalle Parish School Board, the parents of the young men accused of beating him and the adult defendants.
"It's not much, but the Barkers are satisfied," Lemoine said. "They believe it's time to put this to bed."
The agreement, according to Lemoine, also provides for Barker to receive the royalties from any account of the incident by any of the defendants.
"If they get funds from any source for anything about the incident within the next five years, we get them," Lemoine said.
The school board has not agreed on a financial settlement, Lemoine said.