FORT LAUDERALE, Fla. - More than two years after teenager Michael Brewer was set on fire in the parking lot of a Deerfield Beach apartment complex, the three schoolmates accused of committing the crime are scheduled to go to trial.
Broward Circuit Judge Michael Robinson ordered separate trials for Matthew Bent, now 17, the accused ringleader reportedly angry over a $40 debt; Denver Jarvis, now 17, accused of pouring a flammable liquid on the victim at Bent's command; and Jesus Mendez, now 18, accused of taunting the victim by flicking a lighter and igniting the life-threatening blaze.
Mendez will be first to go to trial, with jury selection scheduled for Feb. 27. Bent will be next, starting March 12. Jarvis will go last, starting March 26. Each defendant has been charged with second-degree attempted murder, punishable by up to 15 years in prison.
Brewer, now 17, suffered second- and third-degree burns over two-thirds of his body, but saved his own life by jumping into a nearby swimming pool. He recovered and is now living in West Palm Beach.
Defense lawyers have long said the case is too complicated to try the three defendants together – each would be entitled to his own jury, and evidence that would be admissible against one defendant might not be permitted against the other two.
The burning of Brewer outraged the community and drew national attention to the Deerfield Beach community. The three suspects and the victim all attended Deerfield Beach Middle School at the time.
According to court papers and witness statements, the argument between Brewer and Bent centered around a perceived debt. "He wanted me to buy something from him that I didn't want to buy," Brewer told investigators. "I don't know what it was."
His father told detectives it was a video game, possibly based on Disney's "The Little Mermaid."
Brewer didn't want the game and didn't pay, so detectives said Bent and Jarvis showed up at the Brewers' home on Oct. 11, Brewer's 15 t h birthday, to collect. When Brewer still wouldn't pay, Bent allegedly stole a custom bicycle worth $500 belonging to Brewer's father.
Brewer's family called the Broward Sheriff's Office and had Bent arrested. Brewer stayed home from school the next day, and went out in the afternoon to find a friend at the nearby Lime Tree Village apartment complex.
There he encountered Bent, Jarvis, Mendez and six other teens. The boys had earlier found an open container of liquid they suspected to be rubbing alcohol. At one point, Bent ordered Jarvis to pour the liquid on Brewer, according to witness statements. Mendez reportedly was injured himself when the fumes ignited.
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