Michael Brewer, who was doused with rubbing alcohol and set on fire, testifies during the trial against Matthew Bent at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Thursday, June 14, 2012.
Jurors will continue deliberations, and likely deliver a verdict Tuesday in the trial of a Deerfield Beach teenager accused of inciting his friends to set their classmate, Michael Brewer on fire during an after-school confrontation in October 2009.
The case went to the jury Monday after Matthew Bent, 17, declined to take the stand in his own defense. Bent faces attempted second-degree murder for allegedly encouraging a friend to pour rubbing alcohol on Brewer. Another teen then flicked a lighter and set Brewer ablaze, causing second- and third-degree burns over most of the boy’s body and nearly killing him.
Defense attorneys for Bent rested their case Monday without calling a witness, but during closing arguments they cast their client as a victim of overzealous prosecutors.
Johnny McCray Jr., one of Bent’s defense attorneys, argued that Brewer’s attackers acted independently of his client. Bent, he said, may have been present during the attack, but he did not physically participate.
“He is a victim,’’ McCray said of Bent. “Anytime the government brings a charge against someone and overcharges them, that’s an injustice.’’
But prosecutors countered that even though Bent did not pour the flammable liquid on Brewer or ignite the fire, Bent was just as culpable as those who carried out the attack because he offered them money to harm Brewer.
Maria Schneider, the assistant state attorney prosecuting the case, told jurors Bent simply had others do his “dirty work” for him.
“Sometimes people are victims of circumstances,’’ she said, “and sometimes people are the architects of circumstances. Matthew Bent is the architect of circumstances that led to that tragic result. Because of that I’m going to ask you to hold him responsible.’’
Prosecutors say Bent was angry with Brewer because of a $40 debt, and because Brewer’s parents had Bent arrested on Oct. 11, 2009 for attempting to steal a bicycle from their screened front porch.
Brewer’s father, Michael Sr., testified last week that he had confronted Bent, who is black, and called the boy a racial epithet prior to having him arrested.
All of these events, Schneider told jurors, compounded to motivate Bent to hurt Brewer.
“I’m going to analogize it to a snowball,’’ she said.
The day after Bent’s arrest for the bicycle incident, he and a group of boys encountered Brewer on their way home from Deerfield Beach Middle School.
By then, Schneider told jurors, Bent is “angry. He’s looking for Michael, and he’s talking about, ‘I ought to beat his ass,’’’ she said.
Brewer testified last week that Bent then chased him into an apartment complex driveway. As he backed up to a bush, Brewer said, he felt cold liquid run down his back, then intense heat. Brewer saved his own life by jumping into a nearby swimming pool.
Defense attorneys did not deny Bent was present for the attack. But McCray challenged jurors to find evidence in the prosecution’s case that Bent knew another teen, Jesus “Junior” Mendez, was carrying a lighter that day and would set Brewer on fire.
“Who is even going to contemplate that another human being is going to pull out a lighter and set somebody a fire?’’ he asked jurors.
Mendez, 18, has pleaded no contest for his role in the attack, and was sentenced to 11 years in prison. Prosecutors called Mendez to testify at Bent’s trial last week, and Mendez said he had no recollection of the events.
But the day after the attack, police recorded Mendez admitting that he flicked the lighter that set Brewer ablaze, and that he had only intended to scare Brewer.
Last week another teen involved in the attack, Denver “D.C.’’ Jarvis, 17, told jurors that Bent offered to pay him $5 or $10 if he poured rubbing alcohol on Brewer. Jarvis admitted to carrying out the deed when he pleaded no contest in February, and was sentenced to eight years in prison.
With Brewer’s attackers in jail, McCray told the jury, justice had been served — and prosecutors were just being harsh on Bent.
“An innocent child does not have to be convicted to bring justice to Michael Brewer,’’ McCray said.
But Schneider, in her rebuttal, emphasized that Bent was the ringleader, and the only one with a motive to bring harm to Brewer.
“The evidence in this case establishes he is the one with the motive. He is the one with the anger,’’ she said of Bent. “Don’t let him get away with having other people do his dirty work for him.’’
Jurors will reconvene at 9 a.m.
If found guilty, Bent could face a 30-year sentence.