NEW ORLEANS (AP) Members of the Congressional Black Caucus called on Gov. Kathleen Blanco to pardon Mychal Bell and five other teenagers known as the "Jena 6."
Texas Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee said in a letter to Blanco this week that Bell and the other teens have paid their debt to society and should be immediately pardoned.
"They and their families have suffered enough, as has the state of Louisiana and the town of Jena," the letter says.
Blanco's press secretary, Marie Centanni, said Friday in a statement the governor cannot grant a pardon or commutation without a recommendation to do so from the state Pardon Board. Blanco leaves office Jan. 14. The next Pardon Board meeting is scheduled for Jan. 17.
Fourteen other members of the caucus joined Lee in urging Blanco to support releasing Bell, who was sentenced to 18 months in a juvenile facility on Dec. 3 for his role in an assault last year on Justin Barker, a white student at Jena High School.
An e-mailed request for comment from Blanco was not immediately returned.
Bell pleaded guilty to a juvenile charge of second-degree battery in return for a deal that gave him credit for the 10 months he had already served. Without the deal, the 17-year-old faced being placed in a juvenile facility until his 21st birthday.
Although he has only about eight months left to serve in the case, Bell is serving a separate 18-month sentence for previous juvenile charges unrelated to the Barker dispute. He has about 16 months left on that sentence, which runs concurrently with the sentence in the Barker case.
The charges against Bell and the others sparked a huge civil-rights demonstration in Jena in September. The activists said prosecutors treated blacks more harshly than whites.
Three months before the attack on Barker, three other white teens were accused of hanging nooses from a tree at the high school. The three were suspended from school but were never criminally charged.
LaSalle Parish District Attorney Reed Walters, in an e-mailed statement Thursday, said the attack on Barker was not just a schoolyard fight "but rather an unprovoked, unforeseen assault on a young man who had nothing to do with the hanging of the nooses."
Charges against Robert Bailey Jr., 18; Carwin Jones, 19; Theo Shaw, 18 and Bryant Purvis, 18 have been reduced from attempted murder to aggravated second-degree battery. The last suspect was charged as a juvenile and not identified.