"Jena 6" Teen Free On Bail

Mychal Bell, center, one of the Jena Six, appears with attorneys Carol Powell Lexing, left, and Louis Scott leaves LaSalle Parish Courthouse in Jena, La., Thursday, Sept. 27, 2007.
AP Photo/Alex Brandon
A black teenager whose prosecution in the beating of a white classmate prompted a massive civil rights protest here walked out of a courthouse Thursday after a judge ordered him freed.

LaSalle Parish Sheriff Carl Smith told CBS News that a bond of $45,000 had been set for the young man's release. Previously, the courts had declined to grant bail in this case.

"We still have mountains to climb, but at least this is closer to an even playing field," said the Rev. Al Sharpton, who helped organize last week's protest.

"He goes home because a lot of people left their home and stood up for him," Sharpton said.

Mychal Bell's release came hours after a prosecutor confirmed he will no longer seek an adult trial for the 17-year-old. Bell, one of the teenagers known as the Jena Six, still faces trial as a juvenile in the December beating.

District Attorney Reed Walters' decision to abandon adult charges means that Bell, who had faced a maximum of 15 years in prison on his aggravated second-degree battery conviction last month, instead could be held only until he turns 21 if he is found guilty in juvenile court.

The conviction in adult court was thrown out this month by the state 3rd Circuit Court of Appeal, which said Bell should not have been tried as an adult on that particular charge.

Bell is among six black Jena High School students arrested in December after a fight that left white student Justin Barker unconscious. Four were 17 at the time, and legally adults under Louisiana law.

Those four and Bell, who was 16, all were initially charged with attempted murder -- a charge that is on the list for which juveniles over the age of 14 may be charged as adults -- but the charge has been dropped to aggravated second-degree battery. One has yet to be arraigned. The sixth case is sealed in juvenile court.

Bell, the only one of the six tried so far, was convicted of the battery charge. But the state 3rd Circuit Court of Appeal said he should not have been tried as an adult on that particular charge.

Walters had said he would appeal that decision. On Thursday, he said he still believes there was legal merit to that decision but he decided it was in the best interest of the victim and his family to let the juvenile court handle the case.

"They are on board with what I decided," Walters said of the Barkers.

Publicity surrounding the case led an estimated 20,000 to 25,000 protesters to converge on the town last week in one of the largest civil rights demonstrations in recent years. Walters said the demonstration had no influence on his decision.

Walters credited the prayers of people in this small central Louisiana town with averting a "disaster" when the thousands of demonstrators descended on the town.

"The only way - let me stress that - the only way that I believe that me or this community has been able to endure the trauma that has been thrust upon us is through the prayers of the Christian people who have sent them up in this community," Walters said.

"I firmly believe and am confident of the fact that had it not been for the direct intervention of the Lord Jesus Christ last Thursday, a disaster would have happened. You can quote me on that."

When the Rev. Donald Sibley, a black Jena pastor, called it a "shame" that Walters credited divine intervention for the protesters acting responsibly, the prosecutor said, "What I'm saying is, the Lord Jesus Christ put his influence on those people, and they responded accordingly."

After the news conference, Sibley told CNN that Walters had insulted the protesters by making a false separation between "his Christ and our Christ."

"I can't diminish Christ at all. But for him to use it in the sense that because his Christ, his Jesus, because he prayed, because of his police, that everything was peaceful and was decent and in order - that's not the truth," Sibley said.

Critics accuse local officials of prosecuting blacks more harshly than whites. They note that no charges were filed against three white teens suspended from the high school for allegedly hanging nooses in a tree on campus -- an incident that was followed by fights between blacks and whites, including the attack on Barker, often described as a schoolyard fight.