Judge considers request for new trial in Michael Brewer burning case


A Broward judge is considering a request for a new trial for Matthew Bent, the Deerfield Beach teenager convicted by a jury in June of aggravated battery for inciting the burning attack of Michael Brewer in October 2009.


After a Broward jury convicted him of aggravated battery in June for inciting the burning attack of Michael Brewer in October 2009, Matthew Bent asked for a new judge to hear his case, and his request was granted.

Now Bent, 18, is asking for a new trial, and the new judge presiding over the case indicated Thursday that he might grant that request as well.

Broward Circuit Judge Matthew I. Destry said he was troubled that the verdict in Bent’s trial was contrary to the weight of the evidence presented against him. Jurors convicted Bent of aggravated battery, but that is a lesser crime than the one prosecutors charged him with: attempted second-degree murder.

“The issue here revolves around this principle of fundamental law,” Destry told attorneys. “Was the verdict contrary to the weight of evidence?”

But Destry may not need to rule on Bent’s request for a new trial if he agrees with the argument presented by Scott Raft, an assistant state attorney.

Raft said Broward Circuit Judge Michael A. Robinson erred when he stepped down from the case in July because Bent’s request for a new judge was “legally insufficient” and based on the defendant’s own opinion that the judge was prejudiced against him.

By granting a legally insufficient request for a new judge, Robinson invited an error into the case, Raft said, and Bent should not benefit from that error by receiving a new trial.

But defense attorney Johnny McCray Jr. asserted that Bent’s request for a new judge was legally sound — and that his client’s request for a new trial was not based on Robinson’s alleged prejudice against Bent, but on the lack of credibility of witnesses presented at his trial.

“We have a case that’s rife with credibility issues,” McCray said, adding that at least five witnesses gave inconsistent testimony of the events surrounding the attack on Brewer, who was seriously burned when he was set afire at a Deerfield Beach apartment complex.

“Not only did they give inconsistent statements,” McCray said, “but their statements conflicted with each other.”

Maria Schneider, the lead prosecutor in the case, argued that defense attorneys never made that assertion during trial.

“Not one credibility issue was argued,” she said.

What’s more, Schneider said, the issue at trial was not what happened to Brewer.

Everyone acknowledged that Brewer had been doused with rubbing alcohol and set ablaze by two other boys at the apartment complex near Deerfield Beach Middle School, where all the boys were enrolled.

Brewer, who saved his own life by jumping into a swimming pool, suffered second- and third-degree burns over most of his body. He underwent seven skin grafts and three throat surgeries during a five-month hospital stay.

The two boys who carried out the burning pleaded no contest to their roles in the crime, and they received prison sentences of eight and 11 years, plus probation.

Bent was the last remaining defendant in the case — accused of orchestrating the attack — and the only one who pleaded not guilty and chose to go to a jury trial.

“The issue has always been whether the responsibility for what happened should be attributed to Mr. Bent,” Schneider said. “This isn’t a case where the facts were really that much an issue.”

But Destry said that did not mean the credibility of witnesses was unassailable.

“If the facts were so clear and there was no issue of credibility,” he said, “then why not return a guilty verdict as charged?”

Destry said he would announce his ruling on Bent’s request for a new trial on Sept. 18.

Read more Top Stories stories from the Miami Herald

System designer Andy Dobrowolski looks on as the 200,000-gallon tank (actually two connected tanks) at Florida Keys Aquarium Encounters in Marathon is filled.

    Going with the flow: Water trickles into new Florida Keys aquarium

    Watching water trickle slowly into an empty 200,000-gallon fish tank isn't that far off from watching grass grow or paint dry.

 <span class="cutline_leadin">FAMILY BONDS:</span> The De Soto family, Dan, Marilyn and son Matthew, 13, help fill Easter baskets at St. Louis Catholic Church in Pinecrest, on Palm Sunday.  Volunteers from the church filled and delivered 1,800 baskets containing candy and snacks for children and toiletries and personal items for seniors. The church works with charities, hospitals and other churches.

    Easter Sunday

    South Florida faithful approach Easter as a time for service

    In the weeks leading up to Easter, church members have gone into overdrive, making goodie bags for the homeless, filling Easter baskets and distributing food to help those in need.

Miami Heat guard Dwyane Wade, left, and center Chris Bosh watch from the bench during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Philadelphia 76ers, Wednesday, April 16, 2014 in Miami. The 76ers defeated the Heat 100-87.


    Greg Cote: Dynasty or dismantling for the Miami Heat?

    A Heat playoff run is the annual gift we slowly unwrap together, our two-month emotional thrill ride ever since LeBron James grandly announced he was “taking my talents to South Beach” that summer night in 2010. Well, buckle up again, South Florida. Prepare for exhilarating highs and work-productivity lows. Prepare for late nights walking drained from the downtown bayside arena. Prepare for hearts to soar or plunge on whether a basketball swishes through a nylon net or bonks off a painted rim.

Miami Herald

Join the

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category