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Judge In Burned Teen Trial Recuses Himself From Case

FORT LAUDERDALE (CBSMiami/AP) - The judge who presided over the trial of Matthew Bent, the Pompano Beach teen convicted of taking part in the fiery attack on Michael Brewer, has stepped aside from the case.

Last week, defense attorneys asked Broward Circuit Judge Michael Robinson to recuse himself from case before he sentenced Bent.

It was a rare and stunning move.

"From my 32 years of experience (it) is an anomaly," said Johnny McCray, one of Bent's attorneys. "I've never seen it."

In their motion for disqualification, the attorneys for Bent argued that much of their reasoning rested on the handling of allegations made by a juror in the Bent case, Karen Bates-McCord.

After the trial, Bates-McCord complained about possible misconduct during the jury deliberations through a letter to the judge.

During a hearing, Karen Bates-McCord told Judge Robinson that she was pressured by racial threats into voting to convict.

"The deliberation was not based on evidence. It was based on color of skin, racist and everything. The evidence was never discussed," she told the court.

Bates-McCord added 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.

Last month a jury convicted Bent, 17, of aggravated battery in the 2009 attack on Michael Brewer. Brewer was doused with alcohol and set on fire.

Bent could be sentenced to up to 15 years in prison for the conviction on the aggravated battery conviction.

Bent's attorneys argued that Judge Robinson did not disclose to the defense that he had received a letter. In addition, the attorneys write in their motion that the juror received a phone call from the judge's office.

"The juror indicated that the judge spoke with her through the secretary and she felt intimidated the way the conversation ensued," attorney McCray told CBS 4's Carey Codd.

Specifically, McCray wrote that Robinson asked the juror to come to his office and "meet with him only and that she was not to speak with defense counsel, the State or media."

Later, McCray wrote that the juror was "threatened with contempt charges if she spoke with anyone."

The jury in the case found that Bent participated and directed the initial attack on Brewer. He was cleared of a more serious charge of attempted murder.

Bates-McCord said she was pressured into coming up with a guilty verdict — even though she thought Bent was innocent.

Bent's attorneys want a new trial for their client or an acquittal, claiming that the prosecution did not prove its' claim that Bent masterminded the attack.

Brewer's grandmother, Reenie, told CBS 4 News that a new trial would be harmful to her family.

"We certainly don't want that," Brewer said. "That's not something that would be beneficial for my family health wise."

Brewer also said that the family understands the legal moves by Bent's lawyers. However, they believe Judge Robinson was fair and clear throughout the trial.

A new judge will begin hearing arguments in the case on Tuesday.

Two other teens who were part of the attack, Denver Jarvis, 17, and Jesus Mendez, 18, both pleaded no contest to charges against them and were sentenced to eight-years and 11 years in jail respectively.

(TM and © Copyright 2012 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2012 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)


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