Charges Against One of the 'Jena Six' Reduced

The last of six black teens to be arraigned in the beating of a white high school student pleaded not guilty Wednesday to reduced charges.

Bryant Purvis, 18, who had initially been charged with attempted second-degree murder, was charged with second-degree aggravated battery and conspiracy in a court hearing that lasted just minutes.

Purvis is set to stand trial as an adult in March 2008. If convicted, he could be imprisoned for up to 22 years.

District Attorney Reed Walters was in court but did not comment. He has declined to speak about pending cases.

The six teens, known as the Jena Six, were arrested after a December 2006 attack on a white student, Justin Barker, at Jena High School. Tensions between black and white students had been running high for weeks, with one incident involving placement of a hangman's noose in a tree on campus. A noose is a hated symbol among Southern blacks who view it as a harassing reminder of lynchings in the past.

The case drew national attention, with civil rights leaders decrying the severity of the charges against the teens. The injuries to the white student were not considered life-threatening.

In September, the Revs. Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson led one of the largest civil rights demonstrations in years as an estimated 20,000 people marched through the streets of this northeast Louisiana town of about 3,000 residents.

Purvis and four of the teens initially were charged with attempted second-degree murder. Charges against the other four also have been reduced. Charges against the sixth teen, booked as a juvenile, have been sealed.

So far, Mychal Bell is the only one of the Jena Six to stand trial. He was convicted in June of aggravated second-degree battery and conspiracy. The convictions were later overturned and the case sent to juvenile court.

Bell, now 17, was ordered to jail last month for a probation violation in an unrelated juvenile court case.

Purvis' lawyer, Darrell Hickman, said Purvis was "30 feet away from the melee when it took place" and that the charges against Purvis should be dismissed. If they aren't, Hickman said he will seek a change of venue because of the intense emotions and attention tied to the case in Jena.

"There has just been too much that has gone on here in Jena," he said. "It would be impossible for everyone to put aside those feelings."

Purvis, who attended the hearing neatly dressed in a white shirt, black slacks and a necktie, was accompanied by his mother and brother.

Now a senior attending classes in Texas, Purvis said he's concentrating on his studies and basketball, and hopes to attend college.