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The teen at the center of the “Jena Six” case pleaded guilty Monday to hitting a white classmate in an agreement that will allow him to go free by June.

The plea agreement for Mychal Bell, 17, is a significant step in closing the case of the six black youths who were first charged with attempted murder for beating classmate Justin Barker. Bell’s initial conviction as an adult brought at least 20,000 protesters to Jena, La., where the incident occurred.

“This settlement gives Mychal Bell the opportunity to move forward with his life and his dreams,” said Alan Bean, director of Friends of Justice, a civil rights organization.

Plea agreements for the five other defendants may follow, said David Utter, an attorney for an unidentified juvenile charged in the case. Utter said he has discussed a possible plea with prosecutor Reed Walters.

In the agreement, Walters dropped conspiracy charges against Bell and reduced an aggravated battery charge to second-degree battery. Bell was sentenced to serve 18 months, which includes the year he already spent in jail.

He had been scheduled to go to trial Thursday. If convicted, he could have been sent to a juvenile facility until he was 21.

The deal allows Bell to be released to a group home and return to public school as early as Monday. He agreed to testify against the other five if their cases go to trial. (more…)

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