FORT LAUDERDALE (CBSMiami) — A South Florida teen convicted in a fiery attack on middle school classmate Michael Brewer will not be granted a new trial but it was a bit of a mixed ruling.
“I am going to deny the motion,” said Broward Circuit Judge Matthew Destry as he refused, for now, to grant a new trial for 18-year-old Matthew Bent, the alleged ringleader in an attack in which Michael Brewer was drenched in alcohol and set on fire.
Judge Destry ruled Tuesday that Bent does not deserve retrial in the 2009 attack on Brewer, who was then 15.
Brewer’s family was in the courtroom for the ruling.
“We were ready to deal with whatever happened with what we have been through,” said Michael’s mother Valerie Brewer. “Michael is doing well right now with school and his personal life. We have kept him in the dark about what actually is going on and figured we’d cross that bridge when we came to it.”
But it’s not over.
The judge has ordered another hearing for October 12th due to potential problems with jury deliberations that could eventually lead to a new trial. All the jurors at Bent’s trial will be called in to see if there was any misconduct, exactly three years to the day after the attack.
“What happens next is that they will subpoena all the jurors and they’re going to come in and address the second issue with regards to the motion for a new trial,” said defense attorney Perry Thurston. “And that is whether there were improper deliberations or quite frankly whether there was any impropriety that occurred in the jury room.”
Bent was originally charged with attempted second-degree murder, but the jury in June convicted him of a lesser aggravated battery charge. That carries a maximum 15-year prison sentence.
His sentencing was delayed because the trial judge, Broward Circuit Judge Michael Robinson, stepped aside in July following controversy involving a juror.
The juror, Karen Bates-McCord, complained after the trial, that she was pressured by racial threats into voting to convict Bent. She sent a letter to judge Robinson complaining about the possible misconduct during deliberations.
She also said during a hearing that she didn’t understand the judge’s instructions and would have voted ‘not guilty’ had she known she could go against other jurors. Bates-McCord said she was pressured into coming up with a guilty verdict — even though she thought Bent was innocent.
“It is very unusual for a court to overturn based on a juror who has misunderstood the law or felt like they were being pressured into a compromise so I expect that the court will find that, at best, that is what occurred in this situation and that the verdict will stand,” said prosecutor Maria Schneider.
Two other teens, Denver Jarvis and Jesus Mendez, both pleaded no contest in the attack and were sentenced to 8-years and 11-years in jail respectively.