For the first time since he was set on fire more than two years ago, Michael Brewer, 17, took the stand Thursday to testify against Matthew Bent, the teen accused of instigating the attack. NBC's Thanh Truong reports.
Michael Brewer testified Thursday that he thought he would die when he was pulled from a pool after he was set on fire at a Deerfield Beach, Fla., apartment complex in 2009.
Brewer recalled a cold liquid going down his back before the burning sensation started during the attack on Oct. 12, 2009.
“I started running towards the pool and then I jumped a fence and dove toward the swimming pool,” he said.
Brewer said he remembered a woman and someone else pulling him from the pool and seeing skin hanging down from his arms.
"I felt like I was going to die," he said.
They put him in a lawn chair and told him everything was going to be OK as he started feeling very cold, Brewer said.
“I was in tons of pain,” he said, his right wrist shaking as he spoke.
Brewer took the stand Thursday afternoon in the trial of Matthew Bent, 17, one of the teens charged in the infamous burning of his classmate, who was 15 at the time of the attack.
Bent is charged with attempted second-degree murder. He faces 30 years behind bars.
Prosecutors say Bent was the ringleader of the attack, persuading two other teens to pour alcohol on Brewer and set him on fire after a dispute over money Bent claimed Brewer owed him.
Under cross-examination, Brewer admitted that he lied in a deposition about the cause of a dispute between him and Bent. He acknowledged that he previously said their dispute was over a video game, and did not suggest anything about drugs as the cause.
But on Thursday he said they had been having a dispute over money because Bent had tried to sell him a bowl, in which one can smoke marijuana or tobacco, but he did not want it.
Brewer told defense attorney Johnnie McCray that he was not hurt and just stood there after Denver Jarvis poured the liquid on him, and he was only hurt when Jesus Mendez set him on fire. Mendez pulled out a lighter and sparked the blaze that set him on fire, according to prosecutors.
Jarvis and Mendez have both pleaded no contest to charges related to the attack.
Brewer said that he did not hear anyone say they were going to set him on fire.
Evidently frustrated with one question about what happened right before the attack, he covered his face with his hands.
Brewer said that he knew Bent from the neighborhood and school and that they chilled sometimes. But later he interrupted McCray's question by saying, "Not chill – associate. He was not my friend, he was my associate."
On his birthday on Oct. 11, 2009, Bent came to his front porch and asked him if he had his money, Brewer said.
“Then he goes, 'Well, I’m going to take the bike instead'” of the money, Brewer said.
"He sits on it and he starts backing the bike up and then I yell inside for my sister," Brewer added. She came outside, and Bent ended up leaving without the bike, though he came back later with Jarvis, he said.
Brewer took some deep breaths early in his testimony, telling a prosecutor that he was nervous. He wore a blue dress shirt and a striped tie.
He said he didn't remember talking to the police on his birthday, but did remember going to his birthday party. He said he didn't go to school the next day, on Monday, Oct. 12, "because I thought Matthew Bent was going to hurt me because I got him arrested."
'I was scared'
He said he was headed to his friend's home at the Lime Tree apartments when he was surrounded by a group of boys that included Bent. He jumped a wall to go to his friend's house.
“I started walking fast because I was scared and nervous and stuff. And then I see Matthew coming around the corner," Brewer said.
“He said, 'Mike come here, nothing’s going to happen to you, nobody’s going to do anything to you,'” Brewer said. He added that he stood there as Bent, on a bike, came closer and closer as he presumably tried to distract him.
“I just remember a cold liquid going down my back and then I started walking and then I started feeling burning. And then I started running,” he said.
Brewer was burned on over 60 percent of his body and spent months in the hospital recovering from his injuries.
Brewer said he pretended to be sick sometimes so he wouldn’t have to go to school because he was bullied about the length of his hair and called girly.
He also said that he teased some people at Deerfield Beach Middle School.
Brewer was on the stand for 67 minutes. The trial stopped for the day right after he stepped down, and will resume Friday at 1:30 p.m.
During the second day of testimony Wednesday, several teens were called to the stand to testify, including Jarvis and Jesus Mendez.
Jarvis, 17, testified that Bent was offering kids $5 or $10 to hurt Brewer the day of the attack, including pouring the alcohol, which they had found by chance, on top of him.
"I poured the liquid on him and he just standing there, and I put down the container and I seen Bent coming into the apartment, and I walk over to him," Jarvis said.
Bent rode up to him on a bike, Jarvis said.
"He go to reach into his pocket to get the money and then I see everybody running. So I look back to see why everybody's running, and I see Brewer on fire," Jarvis said.
Witness Joel Mendez, Jesus Mendez's brother, testified that Bent offered everyone $5 to hit Brewer, and confirmed that Bent told Jarvis to pour the alcohol on Brewer.
The defense claims that Bent was not the ringleader, pointing to Jarvis' recorded statements taken the day after the attack.
Bent's attorney Perry Thurston pressed Jarvis in court about saying then that nothing would have happened if he had just not picked up the container.
"No, all that on the tape happened in 2009. Since the incident of that day I try to forget as hard as I can about this whole situation," Jarvis said.
Jarvis was sentenced to 8 years in prison with a probation term of 22 years. Jesus Mendez, now 18, was sentenced to 11 years in prison, followed by 19 years of probation.
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