News MIDDAY UPDATE: Tiny Louisiana town prepares for protest march; O.J. bail set at $125K; former astronaut back in court

Tiny Louisiana town gears up for protest march

JENA, La. — Thousands are expected in this tiny central Louisiana town Thursday to protest the treatment of six black teenagers arrested in the beating of a white classmate — and they will march past the stump of a tree that became the focal point of the current racial tensions. (For the local angle on this story read FVSU students head to La. today for protest).

The tree on the campus of Jena High School had been a gathering spot for white students. After a black student asked school officials if blacks could sit there too, three nooses were found hanging from the tree. Amid the racial turmoil that followed, the tree was cut down.

‘‘If I’m driving from New York — and we have buses coming in from Atlanta and all over the country — I want to see where the courthouse is going to make the decision, and I want to go to where they had their tree. Not just to a rally. I could have done that on the radio,’’ the Rev. Al Sharpton, an organizer of this week’s events, said Wednesday.

Three white students were suspended for hanging the nooses. Interracial fights reportedly followed, leading to the December school yard attack on white student Justin Barker and attempted murder charges against five black students who were charged as adults. (A sixth student is charged as a juvenile, so charges are secret.)

The attempted murder charges, widely criticized as overly harsh, have been reduced as the students were arraigned.

Mychal Bell, the only one tried so far, was convicted of second-degree battery, carrying up to 15 years in prison. However, a state appeal court ruled last week that Bell, 16 at the time of the fight, should not have been tried as an adult.

Thursday’s march had been scheduled around Bell’s sentencing. After the appeal court ruling wiping out Bell’s conviction, organizers decided to go ahead with the rally anyway to show support for Bell — who remains jailed pending the prosecution’s appeal — and his co-defendants. Estimates range as high as 60,000 marchers for the two-mile trek, scheduled to start at 7 a.m.

Sharpton said there also will be an 11 a.m. rally in nearby Alexandria, about an hour’s drive from Jena.

Schools in Jena will close Thursday and many businesses in the town of 2,900 also say they will shut down, concerned about whether the march will remain peaceful.

Shirley Martin, whose daughter, Tina Norms, decided to close Cafe Martin, said she doubts it will open Thursday, even though the rally is expected to end by midmorning.

‘‘That sounds fine. Maybe we can get our town back in order for us to work the next day,’’ she said.

Martin Luther King III and the Rev. Jesse Jackson also are expected to attend the march.

Judge sets bail for O.J. Simpson at $125,000 in Las Vegas sports memorabilia theft case

LAS VEGAS — A judge set bail Wednesday at $125,000 for O.J. Simpson in the former football star’s alleged role in the armed robbery of sports memorabilia collectors at a Las Vegas hotel.

Simpson, standing in a blue jail uniform and handcuffs, furrowed his brow as the judge read the list of charges against him.

He answered quietly in a hoarse voice and nodded as Justice of the Peace Joe Bonaventure Jr. detailed charges of kidnapping and robbery and laid out restrictions for his release. He did not enter a plea.

Former astronaut back in court in attempted kidnapping case

ORLANDO, Fla. — Former astronaut Lisa Nowak’s lawyer argued Wednesday that the police search of her car was illegal because she never signed a consent form after her arrest for allegedly attacking a romantic rival.

But the detective who interviewed Nowak repeated earlier testimony that she had nodded in authorization several times, and even wrote down the BMW’s location for him.

Nowak returned to court for the second part of a pretrial hearing that began last month. She wants Circuit Judge Marc L. Lubet to bar prosecutors from using evidence from the search and her lengthy police interview in her assault and attempted kidnapping case in a NASA love triangle.

Nowak’s attorney, Donald Lykkebak, has said she was not advised of her rights before the interview.

Trial is scheduled to begin April 7 and Lykkebak is expected to use a temporary insanity defense, saying Nowak suffered from major depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, insomnia and ‘‘brief psychotic disorder with marked stressors.’’