Charges reduced for one of Jena Six

JENA, La. -- Prosecutors reduced charges against a black high school student a day before he was to go on trial Tuesday in the beating of a white student amid escalating racial tensions.

Mychale Bell and four other black students faced up to 80 years if convicted of attempted murder and conspiracy to commit murder in the December beating, which occurred several months after three white students were suspended for hanging nooses from a schoolyard tree.

But the district attorney on Monday reduced Bell's charges to aggravated second-degree battery, which carries a sentence of up to 15 years, and conspiracy to commit aggravated second-degree battery, which carries a maximum sentence of 7 1/2 years.

Aggravated second-degree battery involves use of a dangerous weapon, according to state statutes. Parents of the accused say they had heard no previous mention of a weapon.

"Well, anything is better than murder and a lifetime in prison," said John Jenkins, whose son, Carwin Jones, is among the charged. "But it's still strange. All of a sudden they're talking about a weapon. What weapon? We never heard anything about a weapon before."

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