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U.S. attorney: Nooses, beating at Jena High not related

  • Story Highlights
  • Nooses, beating are separate, unrelated incidents, U.S. attorney says
  • Jena 6 are a group of teens charged with beating up a white classmate
  • Thousands expected to protest charges in Jena on Thursday
  • Nooses hung outside school in August 2006; student attacked three months later
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JENA, Louisiana (CNN) -- There is no link between the nooses hung by white students outside a Louisiana high school and the alleged beating of a white student by black teens, according to the U.S. attorney who reviewed investigations into the incidents.

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Some residents say nooses hung from a tree on campus sparked the violence that landed the Jena 6 in jail.

The events, though likely symptoms of racial tension, were separate incidents, said Donald Washington, U.S. attorney for the Western District of Louisiana.

The events occurred three months apart last year in Jena, Louisiana.

"A lot of things happened between the noose hanging and the fight occurring, and we have arrived at the conclusion that the fight itself had no connection," he said.

Thousands of protesters are descending on the town of 3,000 to demonstrate Thursday against the way the cases have been handled.

Many said they are angry the six black students, dubbed the "Jena 6," are being treated more harshly than the white students who hung the nooses. The white students were suspended from school but did not face criminal charges. The protesters argue they should have been charged with a hate crime. The black students face charges of aggravated second-degree battery and conspiracy in the schoolyard beating.

Civil rights activist Al Sharpton, speaking to the media in Jena, said there is no intention to stir up violence.

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"We didn't come to start trouble; we came to stop trouble," he said Wednesday.

"We're going to walk past the scene of the crime, where this tree was. ... This is a march for justice. This is not a march against whites or against Jena."

While critics contend the nooses and the beating are two sides of the same problem, U.S. Attorney Washington said a direct link would be hard to prove.

There was "no connection that a prosecutor could take into court and say, 'You know, judge or jury, we're prosecuting these white kids for these nooses, and look at all the damage they caused downstream, all the way down to the fight at Jena High School on December 4,'" he told CNN's Kyra Phillips on Tuesday.

"We could not prove that, because the statements of the students themselves do not make any mention of nooses, of trees, of the 'N' word or any other word of racial hate."

LaSalle Parish District Attorney Reed Walters, who oversaw the local investigations into both incidents, rejected the idea there was "a direct linkage" between the hanging of the nooses and the schoolyard attack.

"When this case was brought to me and during our investigation and during the trial, there was no such linkage ever suggested," Walters said in a news conference Wednesday in Jena. "This compact story line has only been suggested after the fact." Video Watch Walters explain why he thinks the case is not about race »

Washington noted that after the noose-hanging incident at the start of the school year in August, school routines went forward as usual; there was no apparent lingering anger.

"There were three months of high school football in which they all played football together and got along fine, in which there was a homecoming court, in which there was the drill team, in which there were parades," Washington added.

Asked if the incidents had been blown out of proportion, he replied, "To a degree, I believe so, yes."

The noose hanging occurred after a black student asked whether he and some friends could sit under the tree, a place normally used by whites.

Washington said FBI agents who went to Jena in September to investigate the noose report, and other federal officials who examined what happened, concluded it "had all the markings of a hate crime."

The incident wasn't prosecuted as such because it didn't meet the federal standards required for the teens to be certified as adults, Washington said. A court makes the final decision on whether to drop their juvenile status.

The three white teens were under 18, with no prior records, and no group such as a Ku Klux Klan was found to be behind their actions.

It was left up to the school to discipline the students, who were briefly suspended from classes, despite the principal's recommendation that they be expelled, Walter said.

Washington said federal officials examined the way the school handled the infractions, and whether black students were being treated differently than whites. The officials found it was not unusual for the school superintendent to reinstate students after the principal recommends expelling them.

Washington said he thinks most people were disappointed the three students didn't get more severe punishment.

Racial tension in the town increased after the noose incident. In November, someone burned the main academic building. The arson has not been solved, but many believe the incident is linked to racial tension.

Then, in December, the Jena 6 were accused of brutally beating a white student, Justin Barker.

The beating is considered a state, not a federal, crime, and all six defendants pleaded not guilty.

Parents of the Jena 6 say they heard Barker was hurling racial epithets, but Barker's parents insist he did nothing to provoke the attack.

On Friday, the 3rd District Court of Appeals in Lake Charles threw out the conviction for aggravated second-degree battery against defendant Mychal Bell, saying the charges should have been brought in juvenile court.

Earlier this month, a district court judge vacated a conviction for conspiracy to commit aggravated second-degree battery, saying the charge should have been brought in juvenile court.

Washington said Bell had several previous assault charges on his record.

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He and the other five members of the Jena 6 -- all of them African-Americans -- were initially charged with attempted murder and conspiracy to commit murder in connection with the December 4 beating.

Charges against Bell were reduced, as were charges against Carwin Jones and Theodore Shaw, who have not yet come to trial. Robert Bailey, Bryant Purvis and an unidentified juvenile remain charged with attempted murder and conspiracy to commit murder. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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