FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — The foreperson of the jury that convicted a teenager in a fiery attack on a middle school classmate told a judge Friday she was subjected to racial harassment during deliberations that she described as chaotic and confrontational.
The other five jurors, also interviewed Friday by Circuit Judge Matthew Destry, said they didn't recall intense racial animosity but most agreed some racial issues flared in the case. The teenager who was set on fire, Michael Brewer, is white; the one convicted of aggravated battery in June, Matthew Bent, is black.
If the judge finds that the verdict against Bent was based on race, he could order a new trial. Another hearing is set for next week.
On Friday, the third anniversary of the attack on Brewer, jury foreperson Karen Bates-McCord testified that she felt pressured into joining others on the panel in convicting Bent. Bates-McCord is also black.
"When we went into deliberations, the minute I said something, they said I was angry. They called me a racist," she said. "It was a chaos."
Other jurors, however, said race only came up in passing and had no direct bearing on the verdict. Sheri Gordon, who is white, said she recalled discussion only about how different racial groups use dialects and sometimes mean different things using similar words.
"It didn't come up where it affected the decision," she said.
Another black juror, Jessica Walker, said she knew that Bates-McCord felt she was being attacked and there were racial comments made. She also said one juror said well before deliberations that it was an "easy case" to decide.
Walker said her reaction was: "How could he have an opinion or a verdict already?"
If the conviction stands against the 18-year-old Bent, he could get up to 15 years in prison. If a new trial is ordered, prosecutors cannot charge him again with attempted murder because of double jeopardy.
Brewer, who turned 18 on Thursday, survived the attack by jumping into an apartment complex swimming pool. He suffered severe burns over two-thirds of his body but family members say he has recovered remarkably.
The attack happened after Bent tried to force Brewer to buy a marijuana pipe, according to trial testimony. Brewer refused, and in retaliation, Bent tried to steal a Brewer family bicycle, which led to his arrest on theft charges.
Brewer stayed home from Deerfield Beach Middle School the next day but then went out in the afternoon to visit a friend. He encountered Bent and a group of boys he knew, unaware they had by chance found a jug of rubbing alcohol. Prosecutors say at Bent's urging, one boy poured the liquid on Brewer and another lit him on fire with a lighter.
Denver Colorado Jarvis, 18, is serving an eight-year prison sentence for pouring the alcohol on Brewer. Jesus Mendez, also 18, is doing 11 years for flicking the lighter.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.