FORT LAUDERDALE (CBSMiami) – Opening statements are underway in the high profile burning case of South Florida teenager Michael Brewer.
A six-person jury plus two alternates was seated Monday to hear the state’s case against Matthew “Zeke” Bent, 17, who is accused of planning the attack that left then- 15-year-old Michael Brewer fighting for his life with burns over two-thirds of his body.
During opening statements, Bent’s defense attorney Perry Thurston said his client did not plot or take part in the attack.
“There was no plan. There was no plot. There was no sophisticated scheme,” Thurston said. “Matthew Bent sits in this courtroom innocent of those charges.”
He told jurors the blame belongs to two other boys who previously pleaded no contest for their roles in the attack. Denver Colorado “D.C.” Jarvis, 17, who admitted pouring the rubbing alcohol on Brewer and Jesus “Junior” Mendez, 18, who lit the fire with a lighter. Mendez was sentenced to 11 years in prison, Jarvis to eight.
Both boys are on the state’s witness list and so is Michael Brewer.
After the attack, Brewer survived by jumping into a swimming pool, but suffered second and third-degree burns over most of his body. He nearly died and spent months in the hospital, undergoing painful skin graft surgeries followed by lengthy physical rehabilitation.
“I still don’t sleep. Michael wakes up at night and has nightmares,” said Michael’s mother Valerie Brewer. “Physically, he’s okay, but the mental scars may never go away.”
Prosecutor Maria Schneider said Bent offered to pay Jarvis $5 to pour the alcohol on Brewer.
“I’m going to ask you to hold Matthew Bent responsible for his actions,” Schneider told the six-person jury.
All the boys were students at Deerfield Beach Middle School. According to statements given to police, Bent wanted revenge because Brewer refused to buy a $40 video game the day before the attack. After the rebuff, Bent allegedly tried to steal a bicycle belonging to Brewer’s father and was arrested. His attempted burglary charge is still pending.
That story was retold in court Tuesday by the first witness Melissa Durke who is Michael Brewer’s half sister. On the stand, she described how Bent came to her house to steal her father’s bike because he claimed Brewer owed him money.
Brewer’s family said Michael stayed home from school the next day to avoid further trouble with Bent, but then went to meet a friend shortly after the last bell rang. A group of boys including Bent confronted Brewer.
Bent was offered a plea deal of ten years in prison but his family wanted a trial and insist he did nothing wrong.
Bent’s attorney’s are expected to focus their defense on whether there’s adequate proof Bent actually gave orders leading to the attack.
The judge has told the potential jurors that the trial could last at least two weeks.
If convicted of attempted second-degree murder, Bent could spend at least 30 years in prison.