Burn victim Michael Brewer testifies about fiery attack

Taking the stand in a Broward court, Michael Brewer recalled the day he was set on fire, and talked about the pain he’s lived with ever since.

06/14/2012 5:00 AM

06/18/2012 1:10 PM

Michael Brewer remembers the day he was set on fire and nearly lost his life. But the memory he shared with jurors Thursday in Broward Criminal Court differed slightly from the testimony given by previous witnesses in the attempted second-degree murder trial of Matthew “Zeke” Bent, the alleged ringleader and last remaining defendant in the case.

Brewer said he was never surrounded, as others testified earlier, when a group of boys poured rubbing alcohol over his body and set him ablaze by the driveway of a Deerfield Beach apartment complex in October 2009.

Brewer, who was 15 at the time, recalls walking away from an after-school encounter with a group of other boys. But he remembers being confronted only by Bent, who was chasing him on a bicycle.

“I started walking fast because I was scared and nervous and stuff, and then I seen Matthew coming around the corner,’’ Brewer said. “He told me nothing was going to happen. He said, ‘Mike, come here. Nothing’s going to happen. Nobody’s going to do anything to you.’ ’’

Once Bent caught up, Brewer said, Bent backed him up to a bush.

“I just stand there, and he just came closer and closer,’’ Brewer said. “I guess he was trying to distract me or something.’’

Brewer said he does not remember saying anything to Bent, just facing him. He also did not see Denver “D.C.” Jarvis, who testified at Bent’s trial Wednesday that he poured a jug of rubbing alcohol over Brewer.

Nor did Brewer see Jesus “Junior” Mendez, who has admitted flicking the lighter that set Brewer ablaze but told jurors on Wednesday that he had no memory of the attack.

The rest of Brewer’s recollection cannot be disputed.

“I just remember a cold liquid going down my back,’’ Brewer said, “and I started walking, and I started feeling burning, and then I started running.’’

He pulled off his white T-shirt, which was engulfed in flames.

“I started running toward the pool,’’ Brewer said, “and then I jumped the fence and dove into the swimming pool.’’

Brewer likely saved his own life, having suffered second- and third-degree burns over 65 percent of his body.

“I remember a lady coming out of her apartment with, I guess, her fiancé, and them pulling me out of the pool,’’ he said. “I remember looking down and seeing skin hanging from my arms.

“I felt like I was going to die. They sat me down on a lawn chair, and they said, ‘Everything’s going to be OK’, and then I started getting really cold, and then I started seeing blur. That’s basically what I can remember.’’

Brewer appeared to have largely recovered from his injuries, taking the witness stand dressed in jeans, a blue shirt and striped tie.

He spent about five months in the hospital after the attack, and received seven skin grafts and three throat surgeries. He said he has severe scarring on his body. He gets burning sensations on his back, and when he stands too long, his legs feel numb.

“When it gets really cold,’’ he said, “my skin gets really tight so where I can barely move, and it hurts really bad.’’

Brewer’s testimony was not limited to the day of the attack and its aftermath, though, and Johnny McCray Jr., one of Bent’s defense attorneys, pointed out discrepancies between Brewer’s comments in the courtroom and a sworn statement taken in April.

Bent was mad at him, Brewer said in court, because Brewer wouldn’t buy drug paraphernalia from him.

“He tried to sell me a bowl that I didn’t want,’’ Brewer said.

At the prosecution’s urging, Brewer explained that a bowl can be used to smoke tobacco or marijuana. He said he did not smoke marijuana.

But McCray accused Brewer of lying, and trying to make his client look as bad as possible.

In the April deposition, McCray said, Brewer stated that Bent wanted $40 for a Little Mermaid video.

“So today, to really try and make it look bad for this young man, you say it’s something drug related?’’ McCray asked Brewer.

Brewer admitted he had lied during the three-hour deposition in April.

Later, McCray caught Brewer in a second lie.

Brewer testified he couldn’t recall a confrontation between his father and Bent. But McCray again pointed to the April deposition, when Brewer said his father had used the “F-word’’ during an encounter with Bent at the family’s house the day before the attack.

Earlier in the trial, Jarvis, 17, told jurors that Bent was angry with Brewer’s father for coming after him when Bent attempted to take a bike that was inside the Brewers’ screened porch.

Jarvis also testified Bent told him he’d pay him $5 or $10 to pour the rubbing alcohol on Brewer as they were walking home from Deerfield Beach Middle School.

Jarvis and Mendez, 18, have pleaded no contest for their roles in the crime. Jarvis was sentenced to eight years in prison, followed by 21 years of probation. Mendez received an 11-year prison term, one year of house arrest and 18 years of probation.

Bent decided in February to take his case to a jury trial. If he is found guilty of orchestrating the crime, he could face as much as 30 years in prison.

The trial resumes Friday, when McCray said he plans to present just one witness for the defense.

Circuit Court Judge Michael A. Robinson said Bent has until Friday to decide if he wants to take the stand in his own defense.

Closing arguments may follow.

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