Judge denies — in part — request for new trial in Michael Brewer burning case

Convicted by a Broward jury of aggravated battery for inciting the burning attack of Michael Brewer in October 2009, Matthew Bent is seeking a new trial.

09/18/2012 9:18 AM

09/18/2012 5:27 PM

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

Broward Circuit Judge Matthew I. Destry ruled that Bent, 18, is not entitled to a new trial based on defense attorneys’ claims that witnesses who testified at the June trial lacked credibility.

Destry’s ruling never addressed the credibility of the witnesses, though.

Instead, Destry agreed with prosecutors’ arguments that Broward Circuit Judge Michael A. Robinson, who had presided over the trial, erred when he disqualified himself from the case in July.

“I feel that it was invited error,’’ Destry said of Robinson’s stepping down from the case.

Because Robinson invited an error into the case, legal doctrine prohibits Bent from benefitting by receiving a new trial, prosecutors argued last week.

However, Destry said he still may grant Bent a new trial based on allegations of jury misconduct made by one of the jurors.

Before making that decision, Destry said, he will interview all of the jurors on Oct. 12 — the third anniversary of the attack, and the day after Brewer’s 18th birthday.

“The record is incomplete with regard to whether jurors began their deliberations early,’’ Destry said.

The judge also will need to rule on Bent’s renewed 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.

“None of the kids knew,’’ said Johnny McCray Jr., one of Bent’s defense attorneys.

If Destry grants Bent a new trial, then Bent can only be tried for aggravated battery and not the original charge of attempted second-degree murder with a weapon — otherwise Bent would be subjected to double jeopardy, which is prohibited by law.

By finding Bent guilty of aggravated battery, McCray said, the jury essentially acquitted him of the more serious charge.

But if Destry denies the remainder of Bent’s request for a new trial — and declines his motion for acquittal — then Bent faces a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison.

After Tuesday’s hearing, Michael Brewer’s mother, Valerie Brewer, and grandmother, Maureen “Reenie” Brewer, said the family is pleased that Destry denied in part Bent’s motion for a new trial.

Valerie Brewer said the family will be patient and “hope for good things’’ while Destry reviews the outstanding motions.

She said Michael Brewer is “doing really well right now with school and private life.’’

Valerie Brewer said she has kept her son “in the dark” about the latest developments, in the hope that he will continue to heal.

But they conceded that the wait for a resolution has been frustrating.

“It’s impossible to heal as long as we have to keep coming back,’’ Valerie Brewer said.

Michael Brewer suffered second- and third-degree burns over most of his body after a group of teenaged boys surrounded him near the courtyard of an apartment complex near Deerfield Beach Middle School in October 2009.

One of the boys in the group then poured rubbing alcohol on Michael, and a second one set him on fire with a lighter.

Michael saved his own life by jumping into a pool, but his recovery has been long and painful. Valerie Brewer testified at trial that Michael still suffers night terrors, and that 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 jury trial.

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