Broward County

Witness: Defendant in Brewer burning case offered friends money to fight boy

One of the two teenagers who set Michael Brewer on fire in October 2009 testified in Broward County Criminal Court on Wednesday that Matthew “Zeke” Bent, the alleged ringleader and last remaining defendant in the case, offered him $5 to $10 to douse Brewer with rubbing alcohol.

Denver “D.C.” Jarvis, 17, told jurors that Bent, who is on trial for attempted second-degree murder, was angry with Brewer’s father for an incident that occurred the day before the grisly attack.

“He said Michael’s dad tried to hit him with a van,’’ said Jarvis.

Jarvis said he was walking home from Deerfield Beach Middle School with a group of boys that day in October 2009 when another boy handed him a jug of rubbing alcohol they had found sitting atop a three-foot-high wall.

“Zeke had told me, ‘I’ll give you $10 or $5 — somewhere in that range — if you throw that on Michael,’’ Jarvis said.

The boys then followed Brewer as he jumped over the wall and walked into an apartment complex parking lot. Bent followed on his bicycle, Jarvis said.

After dousing Brewer with the liquid, Jarvis said, he turned away to meet Bent, who was riding up to the scene.

Jarvis told jurors that while Bent reached into his pocket to pay him, he suddenly realized that Brewer had been set on fire. He panicked.

“I realized what I just did,’’ Jarvis said, “and I realized what just happened, and I grabbed the container and ran.’’

Jarvis said a second boy, Jesus “Junior” Mendez, flicked the lighter that set Brewer ablaze, but that was never part of the plan.

“I asked him why he did that,’’ Jarvis said of Mendez. “He said he didn’t think he was going to light up. … That was nothing that was supposed to happen.’’

Mendez, 18, also testified at Bent’s trial Wednesday, but he told prosecutors and defense attorneys that he remembered nothing of the attack.

Prosecutors played a videotaped interview of Mendez with police on Oct. 13, 2009, the day after the attack.

In the video, Mendez, who was 15 at the time, admits to flicking the lighter and setting Brewer on fire.

A police detective also noted Mendez had no hair on his right forearm because it had been singed.

Asked in the video why he flicked the lighter knowing that Brewer had been doused with a flammable liquid, Mendez said, “I don’t know. I wasn’t thinking. … I wasn’t going to light it. I was going to scare him.’’

After Mendez flicked the lighter, Brewer was immediately engulfed in flames, tore off his shirt and ran and jumped into a nearby apartment complex pool, saving his own life.

He suffered second- and third-degree burns over 65 percent of his body and spent months recovering in the hospital, where doctors performed seven skin grafts and three throat surgeries.

Brewer still undergoes therapy to soften the thick, painful scar tissue that limit his mobility and tear, his mother, Valerie Brewer, testified Monday.

Jarvis, 17, and Mendez, 18, have pleaded no contest to 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 is charged with attempted second-degree murder with a weapon, accused of encouraging Jarvis to set in motion a series of events that nearly led to Brewer’s death.

He 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.

Perry Thurston, Bent’s lead defense attorney, attempted to discredit Jarvis’ testimony Wednesday by suggesting that Jarvis would receive a reduced sentence for testifying.

Maria Schneider, the assistant state attorney prosecuting the case, objected to the suggestion, and said the state never promised Jarvis any benefit in return for his testimony.

Still, Jarvis said, he expected his sentence to be reduced for testifying, but admitted that nobody ever promised him leniency.

“There was no guarantee,’’ he said.

Unlike Mendez, who said little on the witness stand, Jarvis expressed remorse for his actions.

He said he was actively trying to put the event out of his mind.

“I tried to forget as hard I can this whole situation,’’ he said. “I don’t like going to sleep knowing someone I grew up with, who I’ve known since first grade, almost died because of something I did.’’

Michael Brewer is expected to testify Thursday.