By Erika Pesantes and Rafael A. Olmeda, Sun Sentinel –
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — The jurors who convicted a teenager of aggravated battery for the 2009 burning attack of Deerfield Beach Middle School student Michael Brewer will be ordered back to court and questioned about their deliberations.
Matthew Bent will not have a sentencing hearing July 23rd, as originally scheduled. Instead, Broward Circuit Judge Michael Robinson on Friday ruled that the jurors return for questioning on that day.
The court is reviewing the allegations of juror Karen Bates-McCord, who wrote a letter to the judge saying the jury was torn by racial divisions and that she didn’t know she could have stuck by her belief that Bent was not guilty.
During Friday’s court hearing, Bates-McCord gave sworn testimony in support of her earlier letter.
While deliberating, Bates-McCord said, she was attacked by fellow jurors and called a racist by an Hispanic panel member. She testified that other jurors stopped her from ringing a buzzer during deliberations that would have summoned intervention from court personnel.
“Another juror stopped me and said, ‘you don’t have the right to decide this case on your own,’” Bates-McCord said. “At that point, I kind of broke down and was like forget it, forget it.”
Under questioning from Assistant State Attorney Maria Schneider, who prosecuted the case against Bent, Bates-McCord said she ultimately felt pressured and signed off on the guilty verdict.
In her original letter to the court, Bates-McCord said she didn’t realize she had the option of insisting that Bent was innocent even if it led to a finding of a hung jury.
Along with seeking a new trial for Bent, his attorneys also wanted Robinson to recuse himself from the hearing because of an alleged communication that took place earlier this week.
In an affidavit filed Friday, Bates-McCord said that after submitting the letter she called Robinson’s office and received orders from the judicial assistant, who Bates-McCord said was being instructed by Robinson.
Robinson denied having had any conversation with Bates-McCord and declined to recuse himself.