In the instant that it took to flick a lighter, the lives of four teenaged boys were changed in ways they never intended.
Three of them will spend years behind bars, and a fourth will always carry the physical scars and emotional pain of having been set on fire and nearly killed in an attack that made international headlines three years ago.
“Ten minutes in the lives of these kids changed their lives forever,’’ said defense attorney Perry Thurston Jr., just minutes after his client, Matthew Bent, was found guilty of aggravated battery in Broward Criminal Court on Tuesday.
Bent, 17, is the accused ringleader in the burning of Michael Brewer.
Although he never laid a hand on Brewer, who was 15 at the time of the attack, prosecutors said it was Bent who encouraged a friend to pour rubbing alcohol on Brewer during an after-school confrontation in October 2009. Another boy then flicked a lighter, setting Brewer on fire.
Brewer, who saved his own life by jumping into a nearby swimming pool, suffered second- and third-degree burns over most of his body. He spent months at Jackson Memorial Hospital, where doctors performed seven skin grafts and three throat surgeries.
Brewer testified at Bent’s trial, and described the agony of seeing the skin peel off his hands as he reached out for help. But Brewer, who was present outside the courtroom every day of the week-long trial, skipped Tuesday’s jury verdict.
Jeanne Brady, a registered nurse and attorney representing the Brewers, said the family respects the jury’s decision to find Bent guilty of a lesser charge than the one he faced: attempted second-degree murder.
“Now it’s time for Michael to get on with his life,’’ Brady said. “Now he has closure. Closure is the most important thing for Michael Brewer today, so he can begin the healing journey.’’
Kal Le Var Evans, an assistant state attorney prosecuting the case, said the trial had taken “a lot out of Michael. ... He’s a young child.’’
Brewer still suffers night terrors that he’s being burned alive, his mother, Valerie, testified at trial, and he undergoes physical therapy to soften the thick scars that limit his movements.
Evans said prosecutors will ask Circuit Judge Michael A. Robinson, who presided over the case, to impose the maximum penalty of 15 years in state prison at Bent’s sentence hearing on July 23.
Bent, who has been in jail since his arrest on the day of the attack in October 2009, will appeal the jury’s decision, Thurston said.
“He thought that three years for his involvement was quite substantial,’’ Thurston said. “He’s extremely remorseful.’
Bent was the only one of the three teens charged in the attack to face a jury trial. He had faced an attempted second degree murder charge, which carries a 30-year sentence.
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 the screened front porch of the family home.
The following day, prosecutors said, Bent offered $5 to a friend, Denver “D.C.” Jarvis, to pour rubbing alcohol on Brewer near the driveway of a Deerfield Beach apartment complex. A second boy, Jesus “Junior” Mendez, then flicked a lighter and set Brewer ablaze. The boys were all classmates at Deerfield Beach Middle School.