Four Florida teens who allegedly doused a 15-year-old boy with rubbing alcohol and set him on fire could be charged as adults because of the "degree of cruelty" involved in the attack, officials said today.
A fifth boy who is only 13 may be too young to be charged as an adult.
The victim, Michael Brewer, remains on a ventilator in Jackson Memorial Ryder Hospital's burn unit. Dr. Nicholas Namias said Brewer is critically ill with burns over 65 percent of his body.
"Every part of his body is affected…his torso, legs, arms and head. It does look like the burns to his face and hands are not as bad as they could be," said Namias.
The use of an accelerant means the burn injuries will likely get worse in the coming weeks. "We consider flame burns to be worse that most other types of burns," the doctor said.
Brewer is heavily sedated and his body is extremely swollen, doctors said. Even if Brewer makes it through the next few weeks, there is still the likelihood of organ failures and the painful prospect of multiple operations to replace the burned skin, his doctors said.
The vicious assault has shocked the Deerfield Beach community nestled on the Florida coast just north of Fort Lauderdale, not only for the act of setting Brewer afire but for the teens' chilling reaction.
"I'll be honest with you, a couple of them were laughing about it last night. [Only] one of them seemed genuinely sorry for what he did," said Sgt. Steve Feeley, according to ABC News affiliate WPBF.
"The sheriff called it one of the most heinous crimes he has seen in his 31 years in law enforcement. It's a cliche to say a crime has shocked a community, but this crime really has shocked the community," sheriff office spokesman Jim Leljedal told ABCNews.com.
Charged in the attack are Steve Shelton, 15, of Deerfield Beach, Jeremy Jarvis, 13, Denver Jarvis, 15, Matthew Bent, 15, and Jesus Mendez, 15, all of Pompano Beach.
The boys are all charged with aggravated battery, according to the sheriff's office. In addition, Mendez, who police allege actually flicked the lighter that caused the fire, is charged with attempted second degree murder.
The Broward County State Attorney's office has 30 days to decide whether or not to try Shelton, Bent, Mendez and Denver Jarvis as adults. According to Assistant State Attorney Maria Schneider, in Florida people who are 14 and older can be transferred to adult court for certain types of serious felonies.
"Certainly the degree of cruelty and lack of consideration for others in this crime is something we take very, very seriously," Schneider said.
One of the suspects, Jeremy Jarvis, could only be transferred to adult court by way of a grand jury for certain offenses, but not for aggravated battery, because he is only 13.
In order to make the decision, Schneider said the State Attorney's office will take into account any prior record on the part of the juveniles, their behavioral history and the victim's family's wishes. Schneider said her office has made no decision yet on whether or not to charge the juveniles as adults.
"We are nowhere near that point yet," she said.
Authorities are calling the crime a "torturous attack" and say it all may have started over a video game. Authorities said Brewer owed Bent $40 for a video game. When Brewer didn't pay up, Bent tried to steal a bicycle belonging to the Brewer family. The attempted theft was reported to the police.
The next day Brewer went to an apartment complex where the five suspects cornered him near a swimming pool, according to authorities. At that point, the sheriff's office alleges, Denver Jarvis splashed Brewer with rubbing alcohol and Jesus Mendez used a lighter to set him on fire. Brewer ran into the pool to try to douse the flames.