Judge delays decision in Brewer case till Monday

10/17/2012 7:59 AM

10/17/2012 1:00 PM

A Broward judge said he will rule Monday whether the conviction of a teen accused of setting another teen on fire should stand or be thrown out.

Matthew Bent, now 18, was convicted for his part in the burning attack on Michael Brewer in Deerfield Beach.

But since then, Broward Circuit Judge Matthew Destry has recalled the jurors to testify about claims made by the jury forewoman, who said she was called a racist by other jurors and pressured into compromising her verdict.

Destry could throw out the conviction and call for a new trial.

On Wednesday, the judge said he will issue a decision on Monday.

When jurors testified, they said they did discuss race. But most said those discussions didn’t weigh on the verdict. Their testimony also failed to support allegations by the jury forewoman, Karen Bates McCord, that they discussed the facts of the case and reached conclusions before deliberations began.

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.’’

Brewer suffered second- and third-degree burns over most of his body after a group of Deerfield Beach Middle School classmates poured rubbing alcohol over him and then flicked a lighter. He saved his life by jumping into a nearby swimming pool.

Brewer spent five months at Jackson Memorial Hospital, and underwent 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

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.

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