Broward County

Michael Brewer faces friends turned attackers in court

Michael Brewer sat in the back row of a Broward County courtroom Friday afternoon, flanked by his mother on one side and his father on the other. Brewer, 16, looked intently as one by one, the former friends accused of setting him on fire in a Deerfield Beach parking lot last year were brought in to face a judge.

It was the first time the four were in the same place since that horrific incident. It came during a hearing that some, including Brewer's family, thought would settle the case. Brewer, his parents and his grandmother each were prepared to address Broward Circuit Judge Jeffrey Levenson if the three defendants had pleaded guilty to second-degree attempted murder charges.

But those pleas never came. Instead, defense lawyers said they expect to be ready for trial early next year. Levenson said he expects to be transferred to another division before then, meaning the case will go to yet another judge. The last judge on the case, Carlos Rebollo, recused himself late last month.

A status hearing was set for Dec. 13.

Brewer, 16, locked eyes first with Denver Jarvis, 16, who is accused of pouring rubbing alcohol on Brewer during the confrontation at the Lime Tree Village Apartment complex. Their eye contact in court was brief and uneventful. Valerie Brewer put her arm around her son to support him.

Next came Jesus Mendez, 17, the oldest of the suspects. According to Brewer's statement to investigators and to Brewer's family, he didn't know Mendez well, but there was no hostility between them before Oct. 12, 2009. It was Mendez, prosecutors say, who flicked a lighter igniting the alcohol fumes and setting Brewer on fire.

Three minutes later, the third suspect entered the courtroom. Matthew Bent, 16, is accused of ordering Jarvis to pour the alcohol on Brewer.

None of the suspects spoke openly in court. Neither did Brewer, who left when it was over without addressing questions from reporters.

Defense lawyers said they were hoping to get some indication from Levenson that he was willing to sentence the suspects as juveniles, assuring that they would not be housed with adult prisoners.

They disagreed with Assistant State Attorney Maria Schneider, who argued that the Department of Corrections houses juveniles as youthful offenders, with others their own age, even if they're charged and sentenced as adults.

But before long, each defense lawyer made it clear there would be no guilty pleas on Friday.

Speaking to reporters afterward, defense lawyer Gordon Weekes blamed intense media interest for making it difficult to broker a deal that would satisfy all sides.

Prosecutors offered Mendez 15 years in prison and 10 years of probation. The others were offered 10 years in prison and 10 years probation. All three rejected the offers.

Brewer now lives in Palm Beach County and planned to be at a carnival Friday night with his cousin, his grandmother said.

"He seemed to handle it very nicely," she said of his courtroom experience. "He was a little bit uncomfortable; we all felt it. Matthew was staring at him. It was a little bit disturbing."

Also in the courtroom were the families of the three defendants. Brewer's family and the suspects' families sat at opposite sides of the gallery.

Brewer survived the burning of about two-thirds of his body by jumping into a swimming pool. He endured two months at the Jackson Memorial Hospital burn unit and completed physical rehabilitation last month. He still bears scars over his back, arms and torso.

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