Teen Burning Trial Begins in Florida

PHOTO: This undated file photo released by Jackson Health System on Nov. 24, 2009, shows Michael Brewer at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami recovering from severe burns.AP Photo
This undated file photo released by Jackson Health System on Nov. 24, 2009, shows Michael Brewer at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami recovering from severe burns.

In October 2009, 15-year-old Michael Brewer nearly died after he was soaked with rubbing alcohol by a middle school classmate and a second classmate then ignited him with a lighter.

The teenager was engulfed in flames and ran screaming into a nearby swimming pool. In calls placed to a police dispatcher, Brewer's agonized screams could be heard in the background.

Today, Brewer was expected to be able to confront a third student who was at the pool, Michael Bent, accused by prosecutors of being the ringleader of the grisly assault.

Defense attorney Perry Thurston Jr. conceded in his opening statement that Bent, now 17, was one of three boys who confronted Brewer, but Bent did not participate or plot the violence that ensued. Bent is charged with attempted second-degree murder and faces a maximum of 30 years in prison if convicted.

"There was no plan. There was no plot. There was no sophisticated scheme," Thurston said, according to the Associated Press. "Matthew Bent sits in this courtroom innocent of those charges."

Prosecutors will call Brewer to the witness stand along with Denver Jarvis, 17, who is serving an eight-year sentence for dousing Brewer with rubbing alcohol, and Jesus Mendez, also 17, who was sentenced to 11 years in prison for igniting the flame with his lighter.

In October 2009, Bent, Jarvis and Mendez confronted Brewer, their middle-school classmate in Deerfield Beach, Fla., allegedly over a $40 video game that Brewer refused to buy from Bent the day before the attack, according to court papers. According to statements given to the police, Bent attempted to steal Brewer's father's bicycle that day.

Listen to the 911 call placed after the attack here

While Bent played no physical role in the attack, prosecutors aim to prove that his orders led to the violence. According to Assistant State Attorney Maria Schneider, Bent offered Jarvis $5 to pour the alcohol on Brewer.

"I'm going to ask you to hold Matthew Bent responsible for his actions," Schneider told jurors.

Bent rejected a plea deal that would have limited his time in prison to 10 years, opting for a trial instead.

Since the attack, which gave Brewer second- and third-degree burns over most of his body, Brewer has undergone extensive skin graft procedures and physical rehabilitation. He survived the attack by jumping into a nearby swimming pool.

The day of the attack still regularly haunts Brewer, his mother Valerie told the Associated Press.

"He's scared," she said. "He's got a lot of mental scars that may never go away."

Because the case has drawn intense coverage in local media, prosecutors and Bent's defense team questioned more than 200 potential jurors about their familiarity with the case. Circuit Judge Michael Robinson rejected a motion by Bent's attorneys to move the trial to a location where they argued jurors would be less biased.

Bent's trial is expected to take approximately two weeks.