High school senior Jesse Ray Beard, known as Jody, is a wide receiver on his school's football team, hoping to go pro. But if that doesn't work out, then he hopes to get a degree and become a lawyer.
Big dreams now, but back in his hometown of Jena, La., Jody had been living a nightmare. 48 Hours correspondent Harold Dow reports that Jody was one of the teens known as the Jena 6, charged with attempted murder after a brawl injured a white student at Jena High.
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Protesters called the case a symbol of a biased justice system.
The fight, in December 2006, followed months of racial tension in the small town, after nooses were hung from a tree on the school lawn.
"It seemed like they really weren't giving us a chance," Jody said. "They like, described us as bad children. Like thugs."
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However, only two eyewitnesses out of nearly 50 identified Jody - then 14 years old - as a participant in the fight.
Attorney Alan Howard, of the New York firm Dewey & LeBoeuf, represented Jody for free. "I saw a lot of resilience there," he said. "Passion, charm, and I liked him right away."
Howard wanted to give him an opportunity. So he turned to the people he trusted most - his family.
"I remember saying that he should come and live with us, Howard's daughter Jesse said. "I was totally for it, but I never thought it would happen."
Jody recalls Howard made him a promise:
"That if I stay out of trouble, that he would get me out of Jena."
Howard made good on that promise, when he and other defense lawyers got the original judge in the case removed because of bias.
Howard thinks that if Jody had remained in Jena, "they would have found a reason to lock him up."
With Jody's mom's blessing, Howard became the teenager's guardian. Standing 5'11, and weighing 210 pounds - he's now a big part of the Howard family.
Dow asked, "two different pictures have emerged of Jody. Which one is the real Jody?"
Patti Howard replied, "We know him. He lives in our house. This is the real kid. I don't know who that kid was that they were depicting in Jena."
To those who thought he was just a thug, Jody said, "I'm doing well now."
Well enough, he says, to take advantage of this opportunity and run with it.
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