A broken courthouse air conditioner delayed the end of the trial of Matthew Bent, 17, the Florida teenager charged with planning the 2009 torching of his classmate, Michael Brewer, in Deerfield Beach, Fla.
Broward County Circuit Judge Michael Robinson said the trial would resume Monday. Bent faces 30 years in prison if convicted of attempted second-degree murder. Prosecutors allege that Bent orchestrated the attack in which Brewer, then 15, was soaked with rubbing alcohol and then set on fire. Defense attorneys deny Bent's involvement.
At about 1:45 p.m. Friday, as testimony was nearing its end, Robinson said the conditions in the courtroom had become "unbearable" and adjourned the trial. The air conditioning in the courtroom had been broken since 7:30 a.m. Friday, and an expected repair never materialized, the Miami Herald reported.
"It is not something that civilized society should put a jury through," the judge said, according to the Herald.
Bent has yet to decide whether to testify in his own defense, according to his attorney, Perry Thurston, who said the jury might begin its deliberations as early as Monday afternoon.
Brewer, who survived the attack by jumping into a swimming pool, endured severe burns on most of his body. He took the stand Thursday as the prosecution's final witness. Recounting the attack to jurors, Brewer said he felt as if he was "going to die."
On Oct. 12, 2009, Bent and two boys, all 15 at the time, confronted Brewer near an apartment complex after their middle school let out for the day. One boy poured rubbing alcohol on Brewer, then another boy set him ablaze with a lighter. Denver Jarvis, 17, and Jesus Mendez, 18, are serving prison sentences for their roles in the attack.
Jarvis, who is serving eight years in prison for pouring the rubbing alcohol on Brewer, testified Wednesday that Bent offered him money to do so. Other witnesses testified that Bent had offered $5 to anyone in the neighborhood who would fight Brewer.
But Thurston said the allegations were fabrications designed to help Jarvis and Mendez – who is serving 11 years for flicking the lighter that ignited Brewer – get reduced sentences, adding that they did not surface in the original police investigation in 2009.
According to Brewer, Bent targeted him because he refused to buy drug paraphernalia from Bent.
As Thurston pointed out, Brewer's testimony contradicted his statement in a deposition that the source of his dispute with Bent was a video game. Brewer admitted to lying in the deposition.
The day before the attack, Brewer's parents reported Bent to the police after Bent attempted to steal a family bicycle. Brewer said he stayed home from school on Oct. 12, fearing possible retaliation by Bent.
But according to Thurston, Bent was just one of about 10 boys walking home from school that afternoon and is no more responsible for the attack than the other seven who did not face charges. Prosecutors have singled Bent out, he said, because his dispute with Brewer made it easy to paint him as "in charge."
"Everyone wants justice for Michael Brewer, but innocent people don't need to be convicted of a crime for him to get justice," Thurston said. "This is prosecution overkill."
Thurston said the defense aims to highlight for jurors the speed with which the events that led to Brewer's burning took place. The entire attack took no more than 10 minutes, he said, and the boys who set Brewer on fire found the jug of rubbing alcohol by chance.
In the years since the attack, Brewer has undergone extensive skin graft surgery and physical therapy. His mother, Valerie Brewer, testified Tuesday that her son still required therapy to keep his muscles flexible enough for daily activity.