White Louisiana jury convicts black teenager of beating white schoolmate

An all-white Louisiana jury on Thursday convicted a black teenager of beating a white schoolmate in an incident that was the culmination of racial tensions.

Mychal Bell, 17, was among five black youths charged with attempted murder and conspiracy charges, which carried decades in prison upon conviction. Charges against the sixth youth have not been made public because of his age.

But prosecutors downgraded the charges against Bell to aggravated second-degree battery and a conspiracy to commit aggravated second-degree battery following an outcry and cries of racism by the families of the six black youths accused in the case.

Bell's father rushed from the courtroom, slammed a door and was briefly detained in the courthouse lobby after the court recessed. He was released amid pleas from his family.

Prosecutors have not said whether they will also reduce the same charges against the four other black teens accused in the Dec. 4 beating of Justin Barker.

Racial tensions in Jena - a town of 2,900 with about 350 black residents - escalated in September when high school students found three nooses hanging from a tree on campus. The nooses appeared after a black student sat under the tree, traditionally used by white students as a gathering spot.

The amended charges Bell faced carry a prison sentence of more than 20 years.