Three years to the day after a group of Deerfield Beach Middle School classmates doused Michael Brewer with rubbing alcohol and set him on fire, nearly killing Brewer, a Broward judge will interview six jurors about their June deliberations before reaching a guilty verdict against the teen accused of inciting the attack.
Jurors’ responses could lead to a new trial for Matthew Bent, 18, who was found guilty of aggravated battery for his role in the attack, and faces a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison.
Broward Circuit Judge Matthew Destry recalled the jurors after defense attorneys moved for a new trial based on allegations by the jury forewoman, who alleged that fellow jurors in the trial began discussing the facts and reaching conclusions before closing arguments.
“The record is incomplete with regard to whether jurors began their deliberations early,’’ Destry said at a September hearing.
Destry also has yet to rule on Bent’s motion for acquittal, which is based on defense attorneys’ claims that there was insufficient evidence to prove that any of the teens involved in the attack intended to set Brewer on fire.
Brewer, who was 15 at the time, was attacked in the driveway of an apartment complex by a group of classmates on their way home after school. He saved his life by jumping into a nearby swimming pool.
Now 18, Brewer has largely recovered, though he continues to struggle with the mental and physical aftermath of the attack, according to testimony at Bent’s trial, including night terrors and therapy to loosen the thick, tight scars that remain over most of his body following seven skin grafts and three throat surgeries.
Bent was originally charged with attempted second-degree murder with a weapon, but jurors returned a guilty verdict on the lesser charge of aggravated battery.
If Destry grants Bent a new trial, then Bent can only be tried for aggravated battery and not the original charge — otherwise Bent would be subjected to double jeopardy, which is prohibited by law.
Destry previously rejected Bent’s motion for a new trial based on another defense argument: that Broward Circuit Judge Michael Robinson, who presided over the trial, stepped down before ruling on the credibility of the evidence presented to the jury.
Robinson recused himself after defense attorneys accused him of improper contact with the jury forewoman, who contacted his office to say she was confused about the jury instructions and did not deliver her true verdict — despite replying that she did when Robinson polled the jury immediately after the verdict was read aloud in open court.
Bent and two other teenagers were charged with attempted second-degree murder for the attack on Brewer, but Bent was the only defendant to go to trial.
Denver Jarvis, 18, who admitted to pouring the rubbing alcohol on Brewer, pleaded no contest and was sentenced to eight years in prison followed by probation. Jesus Mendez, 18, who admitted to flicking the lighter that set Brewer on fire, also pleaded no contest and was sentenced to 11 years in prison.
Prosecutors allege that Bent orchestrated the attack on Brewer because he was angry over a confrontation that occurred the previous day.
Brewer testified at the trial that Bent was attempting to collect $40 for a bowl used by marijuana smokers.
When Brewer refused, according to trial testimony, Bent tried to steal a custom bicycle from the front porch of the Brewer family home.
Brewer’s parents called police, who arrested Bent.
The following day, Bent offered money to any of his friends who would fight Brewer, according to trial testimony.
Though witnesses differed in their recollection of events leading up to the attack, all of the witnesses who were at the scene said no one ever discussed burning Brewer.