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Matthew Bent's lawyers are asking for a new trial after a juror renounced her guilty verdict. Attorney Johnny McCray and prosecutor Maria Schneider discuss the issue.
The lawyers for the teen who was just convicted for his role in the fiery attack on Michael Brewer are asking for a new trial after a juror renounced her guilty verdict.
Juror Karen Bates McCord told Broward Circuit Judge Michael Robinson in a letter that she did not believe Matthew Bent, 17, received a fair trial.
She said she did not understand the jury’s instructions and felt pressured to change her decision, particularly after she was accused of being racist by fellow jurors.
"I strongly believe that Matthew Bent is not guilty based on the evidence given," McCord wrote in the letter, which the South Florida Sun Sentinel reported was sent on Wednesday.
The defense seized the opportunity and filed a motion for a new trial Thursday, saying that the juror’s letter and her allegations of racial tension, impeded Bent's right to a fair and impartial jury.
"We want to see if this was a fair verdict, if it was based upon the evidence and not based upon any prejudices,” Bent attorney Johnny McCray told NBC 6.
Bent, who prosecutors said set Brewer on fire, had been charged with attempted second-degree murder, but the jury found him guilty on the lesser charge of aggravated battery last week.
The jury worked for about 11 hours before coming up with its unanimous verdict. The judge polled each of the jurors, who said it was his or her true verdict. Asked if it should end there, McCray responded, "Well, I think the case law allows for the judge to have a hearing to determine what, if anything, actually happened and to see if the verdict was tainted in any kind of way."
In her letter, Bates McCord wrote, “I was accused of being racist and other hateful names that I do not wish to mention.” Bates McCord, who is black, added, “I was pressured into changing my verdict. I had been told by one of the other jurors that I would look at thing differently if Michael Brewer had been a black child and Matthew Bent had been a white child.”
Bates McCord also said that she believed the jury’s decision had to be unanimous.
"I [later] found that I could have held out and it would have possibly resulted in a hung jury. I feel that I am not familiar with the judicial system and do not have a clear understanding that I did not have to render a verdict that I was not comfortable giving ... I believe that Matthew Bent did not receive a fair trial as a result of my misunderstanding and the verdict I reached was not my true verdict,” she wrote.
She could not be reached for comment at her home on Friday.
Prosecutor Maria Schneider said there needs to be finality.
"It was a just and legal verdict, it was based on the evidence, it was the verdict of all of the jurors, and I'm confident that it will be upheld," she said.
There has to be gross misconduct by a jury to overturn a verdict, Schneider said, and second-guessing by jurors will not do that.
Bent could face up to 15 years in prison. He is set to be sentenced July 23.
Denver Jarvis, 17, who poured the liquid on Brewer, pleaded no contest to charges related to the attack and has been sentenced to eight years in prison with a probation term of 22 years. Jesus Mendez, 18, who pulled out a lighter and set Brewer on fire, also pleaded no contest and was sentenced to 11 years in prison following by 19 years of probation.