Two families forever changed by the horrific burning attack of a teenaged boy closed a painful chapter in their lives Thursday when a Broward judge sentenced Matthew Bent, a Deerfield Beach teen, to 11 years in prison for inciting a group of friends to set fire to and nearly kill Michael Brewer in October 2009.
Bent, 18, apologized to Brewer and his parents and grandmother, who were seated in the front row of the gallery, but he denied responsibility for orchestrating the attack when questioned by a prosecutor prior to sentencing.
“I just wanted to say sorry to Michael and his family for them going through this tragedy,’’ Bent said.
He apologized to his parents and relatives seated in the gallery, and said he never meant for any harm to happen.
“If I could take it back,’’ Bent said, “I would.’’
Assistant State Attorney Maria Schneider, who prosecuted the case, attempted to coax an admission of responsibility from Bent. But he refused.
Dressed in a blue prisoner’s jumpsuit, Bent said he was not angry that — the day before the attack — the Brewers had called the police and pressed burglary charges against him for taking a bicycle from the front porch of the Brewers’ home.
He said he never told friends to pour rubbing alcohol on Michael, and that he never offered anyone money to fight Michael, as some witnesses testified at trial in June.
“I didn’t want to hurt him,’’ Bent said.
Schneider reminded Bent that witnesses also testified that he called Michael over in order to distract him while another boy poured the rubbing alcohol over Michael’s head.
“I didn’t tell nobody to do that,’’ Bent said.
Schneider was incredulous.
“You’re taking absolutely no responsibility for what happened,’’ she said.
“I feel sorry for what happened,’’ he replied.
The exchange followed an impassioned plea for mercy from Bent’s parents, Dennis and Cheri Bent.
“My son is innocent,’’ Cheri Bent said. “He is not who everybody is making him out to be.’’
Then she, too, turned to the Brewers and apologized.
“We’d never want something like that to happen to anyone,’’ she said. “My son, Matthew Bent, would never, ever do anything like that. ... It would not go through his mind.’’
But Broward Circuit Judge Matthew Destry also heard from Michael’s paternal grandmother, Maureen Brewer, who approached the speaker’s podium accompanied by Michael’s mother, Valerie Brewer.
“This has been a nightmare to say the least,’’ Maureen Brewer said.
She spoke of the unforgettable smells, screams and cries of a boy whose skin had been burned off. Michael spent three months in the hospital, she said, and he underwent seven surgeries, including skin grafts and a tracheotomy.
Michael was burned over most of his body, she said, and all but his face, hands and feet bear thick scar tissue.
“Now we’re trying to heal some of the scars on the inside,’’ she said.
Michael, 18, plays football, jumps on the trampoline, and “He tries to be pretty much normal,’’ Maureen Brewer said.
But he undergoes regular physical therapy, and he still suffers nightmares from the attack.