Opening statements start in boot camp death trial
By: By MELISSA NELSON Associated Press Writer
PANAMA CITY, Fla. (AP) — Seven former juvenile boot camp guards and a nurse were responsible for a teenage boy’s death, because they repeatedly hit him and failed to get him help, a prosecutor said in opening statements today.
Prosecutor Pam Bondi walked jurors through parts of the detailed videotape of the guards striking Martin Lee Anderson with their fists and knees at the military-style boot camp in January 2006, as the 14-year-old boy lay limp for most of the time and the nurse just watched.
“Their job was to teach discipline, but first and foremost to do no harm,” Bondi said of the eight defendants charged with manslaughter, later adding: “This was no accident. This was a child who was killed.”
Anderson’s parents watched intently as Bondi described the videotape and the investigation of his death. His father held his face up with his hands at times before the defense began its opening statements.
The case has generated intense media attention and civil rights groups doubt a mostly white jury will be impartial. Anderson was black; the guards are white, black and Asian. The guards and nurse face up to 30 years in prison each if convicted of aggravated manslaughter of a child.
Despite planned protests, police said there were no disturbances outside the court, which is across the street from the now-closed camp.
The NAACP’s Florida chapter said it would demonstrate outside because five of the six jurors are white (the other is Asian) and the trial was not moved from Bay County in the Florida Panhandle.
“Collectively, these concerted actions by both the State Attorney and the Defense provide a stage for acquittal,” National Association for the Advancement of Colored People spokeswoman Beverlye Colson Neal said in a statement. She did not return phone and e-mail messages seeking additional comment.
Students from Florida State and Florida A&M universities protested outside Panama City’s civic center as six jurors and four alternates were chosen late last month. Some of the seated jurors had seen the videotape.
Anderson died in January 2006 after being taken to a hospital from the boot camp, which was run by the county sheriff’s office.
He had been sent to the camp for a probation violation and became lethargic during a physical fitness test shortly after arriving. The videotape showed him after he collapses and was caught on an exercise yard surveillance camera.
The original autopsy on Anderson, conducted by the Bay County medical examiner, attributed his death to natural complications of sickle cell trait, a genetic blood disorder.
After an outcry from Anderson’s family and the public, then-Gov. Jeb Bush appointed Hillsborough County State Attorney Mark Ober as a special prosecutor to avoid a conflict of interest for local law enforcement.
Ober ordered a second autopsy by another medical examiner, who found the guards suffocated Anderson with their hands over his mouth and by making him breathe ammonia capsules.
The Florida Legislature dismantled the state’s system of youth boot camps after Anderson’s death. The case also led to the resignation of the chief of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and public protests at the state Capitol.
The Legislature agreed to pay Anderson’s family $5 million earlier this year to settle civil claims.
Associated Press writer Suzette Laboy in Miami contributed to this report.
Published in The Messenger on 10.03.07