A Broward jury has cleared Matthew Bent of second-degree attempted murder in the burning of Michael Brewer, convicting him instead of aggravated battery, a lesser-included charge that carries a lighter maximum sentence than the 30 years Bent originally faced.
The six-member jury listened to three days of testimony last week, much coming from teenage witnesses whose conflicting accounts of the attack on Brewer only agreed on critical details.
Defense lawyers Johnny McCray and Perry Thurston pointed out a crucial omission that even prosecutors conceded: Bent never set Brewer on fire and never asked or expected anyone else to do so.
Without that intent, McCray argued, Bent should not be convicted of trying to kill Brewer. McCray also disputed the contention that Bent wanted anyone else to fight Brewer or pour alcohol on him.
Jurors apparently agreed with the first part of McCray's argument but rejected the second.
Bent will be sentenced July 23.
Prosecutor Maria Schneider emphasized points of agreement in the witnesses' statements during her closing arguments Monday, describing how the group met up after dismissal from Deerfield Beach Middle School, happened to find a jug containing isopropyl alcohol, and then encountered Brewer, then 15, who had stayed home that day to avoid a confrontation with Bent.
A day before the attack, Brewer's family had Bent arrested on a burglary charge for allegedly trying to steal a bicycle belonging to Brewer's father. Bent, in turn, had accused Brewer of failing to pay up on a $40 debt, according to trial testimony.
The reason for the debt is in dispute. Brewer revealed when he testified last Thursday that Bent had tried to sell him a bowl used to smoke marijuana, but that Brewer didn't want it and never took possession of it. Earlier in the investigation, Brewer and other witnesses said the debt was over a video game. But even Bent admitted in a recorded statement played for jurors that he couldn't name the game.
Schneider said it didn't matter whether the debt was related to drugs, video games or "a brick of gold." What matters, she said, is that Bent held a grudge against Brewer that was unabated the next afternoon.
Witnesses agreed that Bent was still angry with Brewer, some saying that he offered money to anyone who would get into a fight with Brewer. Jesus Mendez, who admitted lighting the fire, said in a recorded statement that Bent made a $5 offer. Denver Jarvis, who admitted pouring the alcohol on Brewer, said he did it expecting Bent to pay him for the deed.
Both Mendez and Jarvis pleaded no contest to their attempted murder charges in February. Mendez was sentenced to 11 years in prison, Jarvis to eight. Each will serve a lengthy probation term after their release.
The case went to the jury Monday afternoon. The jury was dismissed after three hours, returning at 9 a.m. Tuesday to continue deliberations.
Copyright © 2012, South Florida Sun-Sentinel
Copyright 2012 Scripps Media, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
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