Jurors in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Tuesday evening convicted 17-year-old Matthew Bent of aggravated battery for his role in the 2009 torching of Michael Brewer, his middle-school classmate.
Prosecutors failed to secure a conviction on Bent's second-degree attempted murder charge. Bent would have faced up to 30 years in prison if convicted on that charge. The maximum sentence for aggravated battery is 15 years.
After three days of testimony from Brewer, his parents and several other boys who'd witnessed the attack, a six-person jury in the Broward County Courthouse began deliberations Monday afternoon, but adjourned after three hours without a verdict. Tuesday's deliberations were delayed when jurors said they could not understand what was being said in an audio recording of a conversation between Bent and his alleged accomplices taped by police following their arrest.
At noon on Tuesday, the jury sent a note to Broward County Judge Michael Robinson asking for a transcript of the recording, but Robinson replied that no transcript was available.
Prosecutors argued that Bent was trying to avoid responsibility for the violence by offering others money to hurt Brewer, who was 15 at the time. But defense attorneys claimed that Bent never intended the attack, calling the case an example of "prosecution overkill."
Robinson will sentence Bent on July 23. The prosecution will seek the maximum sentence, and the defense has requested a presentencing investigation.
On Oct. 12, 2009, Bent and two boys, all 15 at the time, surrounded Michael Brewer, their middle-school classmate, near an apartment complex in Deerfield Beach, Fla. One boy poured rubbing alcohol on Brewer, and another flicked a lighter, setting Brewer ablaze.
Brewer survived the attack by jumping into a nearby pool, but not before second- and third-degree burns covered nearly two-thirds of his body.
While Bent played no physical role in the attack, the prosecution accused him of orchestrating it in pursuit of cold-blooded revenge against Brewer. In closing arguments, Assistant State Attorney Maria Schneider stressed to the jury the disputes between Bent and Brewer in the day leading up to the attack.
The previous day, Brewer's parents reported Bent to the police for allegedly attempting to steal a family bicycle. Brewer said he stayed home from school on Oct. 12 fearing possible retaliation by Bent, who he testified Thursday was targeting him because he refused to buy drug paraphernalia from Bent.
Denver Jarvis, 17, who is serving eight years in prison for pouring the alcohol on Brewer, testified Wednesday that Bent offered him $5 to do so, Schneider reminded jurors. Other witnesses testified that Bent had offered money to anyone who would beat up Brewer.
Bent's attorneys rested their case Monday morning without calling a single witness and told the court that Bent would not testify in his own defense.
In his closing argument, defense attorney Johnny McCray said Bent "will have scars for the rest of his life" because of the trial, and argued that convicting an "innocent child" would not bring justice for Brewer.
Defense attorney Perry Thurston called the allegation of Bent's offer a fabrication on Friday. The attack happened spontaneously after the boys chanced upon a jug of rubbing alcohol on the street, he said.
Brewer has undergone extensive skin graft surgery and physical therapy since he was attacked. His mother Valerie Brewer testified that her son still requires therapy in order to keep his muscles flexible enough for routine functions.