Jurors discussed the race of the defendant and witnesses before convicting a Deerfield Beach teenager of aggravated battery in June for inciting the 2009 burning attack of Michael Brewer, according to the testimony of jurors questioned in a Broward courtroom Friday.
But those discussions did not weigh on the verdict, most of the jurors said, and their testimony also failed to support allegations by the jury forewoman that they discussed the facts of the case and reached conclusions before deliberations began in the trial of Matthew Bent, 18, in June.
Bent faces a maximum prison sentence of 15 years if his conviction stands, but he has asked for a new trial based on the accusations of jury misconduct.
Broward Circuit Judge Matthew Destry recalled the jurors to testify on Friday. He did not rule on Bent’s motion for a new trial, and scheduled another hearing for Wednesday, when he will hear arguments from prosecutors and defense attorneys.
Though race never was raised as a motive in the attack that nearly killed Brewer, who was 15 at the time, the jury forewoman in Bent’s trial, Karen Bates McCord, who is black, said she was called a racist by other jurors and pressured into compromising her verdict.
Bent is black; Brewer is white.
McCord, who first made the claims in a letter to the trial judge in June, repeated her allegations Friday in open court. She also said that on the second day of trial, one juror commented: “This was going to be an easy case to decide.’’
Once deliberations began, McCord said, she brought up the question of her fellow jurors’ comments.
“The minute I said something,’’ she said, “they said I was crazy.’’
Only one juror, Jessica LaShawn Walker, corroborated part of McCord’s allegation.
Walker said that during lunches together, she heard some jurors comment on the demeanor of Michael Brewer’s father, who testified at the trial that he used a racial epithet against Bent during a confrontation prior to the burning attack.
But, Walker said, the comments were “nothing pertaining to the case.’’
She said McCord instructed her fellow jurors to change the subject several times, which provoked a reaction.
Another juror, Maria Linter, said she made a comment to McCord, but that she did not call her a racist.
“It was me who said don’t make this a racial case,’’ she told the judge. “Just go by the law.’’
Other jurors testified that they also recalled some discussions of race, but they were not a basis for the verdict.
“There were a couple of spoken words that had to do with race, but I wouldn’t say it was an overall issue,’’ said Roger Myrie. “I did hear someone say, ‘You don’t know what black people have been through in this country.’’’
But, he said, “We were just talking about the evidence, and the facts that were there.’’
Pressed for an explanation by Perry Thurston Jr., one of Bent’s defense attorneys, Myrie said that all of the jurors were in agreement on the verdict except for one, whom he did not identify.
“There was never really an argument about race,’’ Myrie said. “It was more about [Bent] being a young black kid and being on trial, and if he really deserved that decision that we had made.