NEW ORLEANS — A man who faced an attempted murder charge as a teenager in a case that sparked the "Jena 6" civil rights protest in central Louisiana in 2006 has graduated from law school.
Nola.comThe Times-Picayune reports Theo Shaw addressed classmates at Sunday's graduation ceremony at the University of Washington in Seattle. He spoke about his internship with the Innocence Project New Orleans, which works to exonerate the unjustly convicted. And he said he and his fellow future lawyers have a responsibility to fight injustice.
"We may not be guilty or have had anything to do with the injustices that other people experienced in the criminal justice system. But we have a responsibility: a responsibility to the poor, to the condemned, to those who may not be popular in the eyes of the majority," Shaw said.
Shaw and five other black teens were originally charged with attempted murder in the beating of a white classmate. The harsh charge sparked a huge protest, drawing thousands to the Louisiana town of Jena.
Shaw said he was innocent. He eventually pleaded no-contest to a misdemeanor to end the legal fight. He had spent months in jail after his initial arrest, unable to raise bail.
While in jail, he borrowed a law book from another inmate and began writing motions to get the judge to lower his bail. He said in an interview before law school that he felt a rush of power when he realized that even as a poor, uneducated, incarcerated teenager, he could write something that compelled a judge to respond — if only to say no.
In a Friday interview, he told Nola.com columnist Jarvis DeBerry that having his jailhouse motions denied taught him, "Oh, I have to just talk the way you want me to talk and maybe they'll come give me some attention."
Wayne Brumfield, a former vice president at the University of Louisiana Monroe, mentored Shaw when he transferred there from Louisiana Delta Community College.
"I learned a lot from him, believe it or not: When things don't seem to go the way they should, just keep pushing forward," Brumfield said.