BROWARD CO. - A Broward judge shot down Matthew Bent's request for a new trial Monday, ruling that there wasn't enough proof of juror misconduct to set aside the jury's verdict in the burning of Michael Brewer.
Bent, now 18, was cleared of an attempted murder charge but convicted of aggravated battery in the notorious Oct. 2009 incident, which left then-15-year-old Brewer with second and third degree burns over two-thirds of his body.
Bent was accused of being the ringleader of the attack and ordering Denver Jarvis to pour a container of isopropyl alcohol on Brewer. Another teen, Jesus Mendez, flicked a lighter and turned the incident from a somewhat typical teenage fight to a case of attempted murder that sparked international outrage.
The jury did not hold Bent responsible for the fire, but it was his dispute with Brewer that was the backdrop of the confrontation at the Lime Tree Village apartment complex. One juror later claimed that she wanted to acquit Bent of all charges but felt pressured by the others to reach a compromise verdict. She also accused fellow jurors of discussing aspects of the case before the trial was over and of injecting race into the deliberations.
Broward Circuit Judge Matthew Destry reviewed the allegations, interviewing all the jurors two weeks ago and listening to arguments from both sides last week before determining that there was no indication anyone discussed facts or testimony before they were supposed to. He also found that the jurors' discussion about race was legally appropriate – the jurors said they were imploring each other not to decide the case based on racial prejudices.
Bent faces 15 years in prison on the aggravated battery conviction, but Destry's decision Monday shed little light on when sentencing would take place. Bent is due back in court Nov. 2 for a status conference.
Destry still has another defense motion to consider. Attorneys Perry Thurston and Johnny McCray want Destry to set the jury's verdict aside because, they say, the evidence presented in the case does not justify the conviction.
Destry did not preside over the weeklong trial, which was held in June before Broward Circuit Judge Michael Robinson. To rule on the defense motion for a new trial, Destry will have to read the transcript before making a decision.
There is no timetable for him to read the transcript or reach a decision, although it's likely the timeline will be a topic of discussion at the Nov. 2 hearing. Only after he reaches a decision on whether to set aside the verdict will Destry be able to set a sentencing date.
Outside the courtroom Monday, McCray sounded pessimistic about his prospects for success.
But he vowed to appeal Destry's decision to reject the request for a new trial.