NEW ORLEANS, Sept. 14 — A Louisiana appeals court on Friday overturned the conviction of an African-American high school student who was accused of the beating of a white classmate in case that has become a flashpoint for accusations of racial bias in the state’s judicial system.
The student, Mychal Bell, 17, was one of six black teenagers accused in the beating of a schoolmate in the northern Louisiana town of Jena last December. Mr. Bell was the first accused student to face trial, and his conviction on charges of conspiracy and aggravated battery drew accusations that prosecutors were biased.
His lawyers argued that Mr. Bell was not old enough to be tried as an adult and that the maximum penalty that he faced — 22 years in prison — was excessive. Facing increasing pressure from national civil rights groups, prosecutors in recent weeks have reduced the charges against some of the other defendants, who are yet to face trial.
On Sept. 4, Mr. Bell’s conviction on conspiracy charges was overturned by another judge.
A lawyer for Mr. Bell, Louis Scott, said in a telephone interview Friday night that his client felt a sense of relief at the decision but is still concerned by the prospect of another trial in Juvenile Court.
“I explained it to Mychal in football terms,” Mr. Scott said. “We started the game down by a touchdown and a field goal. On Sept. 4, we got the field goal. Today, we got the touchdown. Now, we get to start the game all over again.”
The teenagers, who have come to be known as the Jena Six, were originally charged with attempted murder in the beating of a classmate, Justin Barker, who was injured in a brawl that was sparked by racial taunts, including the dangling of hangman’s nooses from a tree.