Color of Change: Youngest of Jena 6 Fights to Oust Judge and DA
Color of Change Press Release
Lawyers File Motion to Recuse Judge and DA—Putting State on Trial—Claiming Clear Pattern of Race Bias
JENA, LA— Lawyers for the youngest of the Jena 6, Jesse Ray Beard, filed a motion today to remove Judge J.P. Mauffray Jr. and District Attorney Reed Walters from any future involvement in juvenile court matters involving Beard. Mauffray and Walters served as the trial judge and prosecutor, respectively, in the Jena 6 cases and Beard’s attorneys argue that their prejudice during and after the proceedings has betrayed an unfair bias against Beard.
Millions of Americans remember District Attorney Reed Walters as the man who refused to prosecute white students who hung nooses at Jena High School and then threatened black students at a school assembly saying that he “could end their lives with a stroke of his pen.” Walters charged Jesse Ray Beard, and five other African-American students with attempted second-degree murder for allegedly beating Justin Barker, a white student, in a schoolyard fight following the incident. Attorneys for Beard argue that this and other facts paint a clear picture of the District Attorney’s bias.
“Millions of people turned their attention to the Jena 6 last year, but at the end of the day the system itself has to go on trial,” said James Rucker, Executive Director of ColorOfChange.org, the 400,000-member group that advocated on behalf of the Jena 6. “Reed Walters and Judge Mauffray have behaved outrageously at every turn and violated the most basic principles of justice. There can be no justice in Jena with these men as its agents.”
Because Beard is a juvenile, Louisiana law prohibits him from having a jury trial. Judge Mauffray will be the sole determiner of fact, which adds additional weight to the concerns of defense attorneys who argued in a motion filed today that Mauffray is too prejudiced to preside over the case. Attorneys for Beard ask Mauffray to do the right thing and voluntarily step down from the case, and if he does not, seek a public hearing to present their case in support of their motion.
More than 20,000 people marched on Jena, LA last year to protest the treatment of the six black young men now known as the “Jena 6.” The 6 teens were being tried for attempted murder after a fight on school grounds where Barker was beaten, which followed the hanging of nooses in the school’s courtyard and subsequent race-based conflicts. Jesse Ray Beard, the youngest of the Jena 6, demands a fair trial, where he can test the allegations made by DA Walters. Walters is the same D.A. who secured a conviction before an all-white jury of Mychal Bell, 16 at the time of the incident, after illegally transferring him to adult court. In December, Bell plead guilty to punching Barker after Barker and his friends taunted Bell with racial epithets.
“When a judge shows strong bias and a district attorney has a clear conflict of interest, a motion to recuse is not only fitting, it is required,” said Charles Ogletree, professor and executive director of the Criminal Justice Institute at Harvard Law School. “Given the sad history of the case and the allegations in the motions, the DA and judge should avoid the appearance of bias and voluntarily step aside to provide Jesse Ray Beard and the rest of the Jena 6 a fair trial.”