JENA, LA. — Five members of the "Jena Six" pleaded no contest Friday to misdemeanor simple battery and won't serve jail time, ending a case that thrust a small Louisiana town into the national spotlight and sparked a massive civil rights demonstration.
The five were sentenced to seven days of unsupervised probation and fined $500. It was a far less severe end to their cases than seemed possible when the six students were initially charged with attempted murder in the 2006 attack on Justin Barker, a white classmate. They became known as the Jena Six in reference to the central Louisiana town where the beating happened.
As part of the deal, one of the attorneys read a statement from the five defendants -- all of whom are black -- in which they said that they knew of nothing that Barker might have done to provoke the attack.
"To be clear, not one of us heard Justin use any slur or say anything that justified Mychal Bell attacking Justin, nor did any of us see Justin do anything that would cause Mychal to react," the statement said.
The statement also expressed sympathy for Barker and his family, and acknowledged that the last 2 1/2 years had "caused Justin and his parents tremendous pain and suffering, much of which has gone unrecognized."
By pleading no contest, the five do not admit guilt but acknowledge that prosecutors have enough evidence for a conviction. Charges against Carwin Jones, Jesse Beard, Robert Bailey, Bryant Purvis and Theodore Shaw had previously been reduced from attempted murder to aggravated second-degree battery.
The payment of restitution to Barker was also part of the deal, but the amount was not released.
The only member of the group to serve jail time was Bell, who pleaded guilty in December 2007 to second-degree battery and was sentenced to 18 months in jail.
The severity of the original charges brought widespread criticism and eventually led more than 20,000 people to converge in September 2007 on Jena for a civil rights march.