FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — A teenager accused of orchestrating an attack that left his classmate in flames was trying to sidestep the blame when he offered others money to hurt the boy, prosecutors said in closing arguments Monday.
"Don't let him get away with letting other people do his dirty work for him," Assistant State Attorney Maria Schneider said. "Matthew Bent was the reason why this crime happened. He was offering people money to beat Michael, not to scare Michael."
Bent, 17, is charged with attempted second-degree murder in the 2009 attack on Michael Brewer.
The defense did not call a single witness, and Bent did not testify. In closing arguments, defense attorney Johnny McCray said Bent "has scars and will have scars for the rest of his life" because of the criminal case against him.
"An innocent child doesn't have to be convicted to bring justice to Michael Brewer," McCray told the jury.
The six-member jury began deliberations later Monday. The panel wrapped up for the day after a few hours and will return Tuesday morning.
"Sometimes people are victims of circumstances," Schneider said during closing arguments. "Sometimes people are the architects of circumstances. Matthew Bent is the architect of circumstances."
McCray said the state was overreaching and "overcharged" Bent.
"I empathize with him," McCray said of Brewer. "But I also empathize with this young man of the same age," he said, pointing to Bent. Brewer and Bent used to laugh and play basketball together, McCray said. "A tragedy has occurred in this case. This is why this young man said I am going to trial. I am not pleading. This is his day."
Bent and two other teens were charged with second-degree attempted murder, which carries a prison sentence of as many as 30 years. Denver "D.C." Jarvis, 17, and 18-year-old Jesus Mendez pleaded no contest earlier and were sentenced to eight and 11 years behind bars, respectively.
Bent initially intended to plead no contest as well, but backed out at the last minute and opted for trial. His attorneys insisted he was not the instigator of the attack and never intended to hurt Brewer, who was 15 at the time of the attack.
Brewer, however, testified that he stayed home from school the day of the attack because he was afraid of Bent. The two had gotten into a dispute over a marijuana pipe that Bent was trying to force Brewer to buy, Brewer testified. Bent then allegedly tried to steal a bicycle belonging to Brewer's father, which led to Bent's arrest.
"I was afraid," Brewer testified. "I thought something was going to happen to me."
After school the day of the attack, Brewer decided to visit a friend at a nearby apartment complex. On the way he encountered a group of boys including Bent, Jarvis and Mendez.
The boys had found a jug of rubbing alcohol by chance on a low wall alongside the complex, and Jarvis testified that Bent offered him $5 or $10 to pour it on Brewer. Other boys said Bent offered the group $5 each to punch Brewer.
Jarvis did douse Brewer and Mendez then flicked a lighter he was holding, sparking the blaze. In a statement to police, Mendez said he never expected the liquid to ignite so explosively.
Brewer spent months in the hospital, undergoing seven skin graft operations, followed by months more rehabilitation and physical therapy. He testified that he still feels pain in his back and legs but said he remembers little after diving into the pool.
"I started getting really cold, and then I started seeing blur," Brewer said.