NEW ORLEANS - A black teenager whose prosecution in the beating of a white classmate led to one of the largest civil rights protests in years is close to a deal that would allow him to plead guilty to a misdemeanor and avoid a second trial, his attorney said yesterday.

Mychal Bell, 17, could enter the plea as early as today, said attorney Carol Powell Lexing.

He has been charged with aggravated second-degree battery and conspiracy.

Bell, who is black, is scheduled for trial Thursday on the felony charges for his suspected role in an attack on Justin Barker, a white student at Jena High School, in central Louisiana.

Barker spent several hours in the emergency room after the attack but was discharged and attended a school event the night after the attack, which occurred about a year ago.

Bell was originally charged as an adult with attempted murder. That charge was reduced before a jury convicted him in June of aggravated second-degree battery.

In September, that verdict was thrown out by an appeals court that said Bell should be tried as a juvenile. *