Matthew Bent trial begins in burning case of teen Michael Brewer

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Jury selection is scheduled to begin Monday morning in the case against Matthew Bent, the teenager accused of instigating the Oct. 12, 2009 attack that set Michael Brewer ablaze and nearly killed him.

However, last minute legal maneuvering is likely to cause a further delay.

Bent, now 17, faces 30 years in prison if he's convicted of second-degree attempted murder. Although he did not light the fire that engulfed Brewer in the parking lot of a Deerfield Beach apartment complex, prosecutors say it was Bent's orders that put Brewer's life in danger in the first place.

Bent is accused of telling Denver Jarvis, then 15, to pour rubbing alcohol on Brewer as payback after Brewer's family called police on Bent for allegedly stealing a bicycle the day before. Another teen, Jesus Mendez, told investigators that he pulled out a small cigarette lighter and flicked it, igniting the fumes.

Although no one has accused Bent of directing Mendez, the charge of second-degree attempted murder does not require prosecutors to prove Bent intended to set Brewer on fire.

Broward Circuit Judge Michael Robinson told lawyers on both sides of the case last month that there will be no more delays in starting the trial, but a motion filed last week by Bent's lawyer may put the judge's determination to the test.

Assistant Public Defender Gordon Weekes is asking Robinson to kick the case back to the juvenile court system, arguing that his client does not have the maturity or competency to understand the consequences of bringing the case in front of a jury.

Mendez and Jarvis both entered open pleas of no contest on Feb. 15 and received prison terms far below the 30-year maximum. But Bent decided, apparently at the last minute, to proceed to trial.

Weekes implied in his motion that Bent was listening to his parents instead of his lawyer when he made that decision.

Prosecutor Maria Schneider said last week she does not believe the judge is authorized to move the case out of the adult court.

But if there's any question about Bent's competency to stand trial, the judge could order a competency hearing, which would put jury selection off until psychologists get a chance to evaluate the defendant.

If jury selection does begin Monday, there's no telling how long it will take. The burning of Brewer sparked outrage and made headlines across the country and was featured numerous times on national morning news broadcasts. It continues to generate local headlines, and Weekes has stated in pre-trial hearings that he's concerned about being able to find enough jurors who don't know about what happened and haven't formed an opinion.

Bent, through Weekes, has denied involvement in the crime other than as a bystander and witness.


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