Hat Tip: Court TV
PANAMA CITY, Fla. (Court TV) — A Florida jury found eight former boot camp employees not guilty of causing the death of a juvenile offender in their care.
The panel of four women and two men deliberated just 90 minutes before reaching their verdict in the trial of seven drill instructors and a nurse accused in the death of 14-year-old Martin Lee Anderson.
Former drill instructors Henry Dickens, Patrick Garrett, Raymond Hauck, Charles Helms Jr., Henry McFadden Jr., Charles Enfinger, Joseph Walsh and nurse Kristin Schmidt could have faced up to 30 years in prison if they had been convicted of aggravated manslaughter.
The jury was also given the option of considering lesser charges of manslaughter, child neglect and misdemeanor culpable negligence — convictions that would have carried lighter sentences.
“We were innocent all along,” McFadden said. “We knew this truth would come out. As Circuit Judge Michael Overstreet read the verdicts for each of the defendants, sobs from defendants’ families grew louder.
On the other side of the courtroom, Anderson’s mother, Gina Jones, shook her head, and his father, Robert Anderson, covered his face in his hands.
The case has polarized Panama City, and throughout the week-long trial demonstrators gathered outside the courthouse, chanting and carrying signs. After the verdict was read Friday, as the defendants and their lawywers spoke with the media, people drove by shouting “Murderers,” and “They know they’re guilty.”
The Anderson family’s lawyer, Benjamin Crump, implied that race was the deciding issue in the case, in which a black teenager died after being manhandled by a group of guards that included whites, blacks and one Asian American.
“You kill a dog, you go to jail. You kill a little black boy and nothing happens,” Crump said.
In their testimony, all eight of the defendants said they were shocked and saddened by Anderson’s death. Dickens, one of the two black drill instructors involved in the incident, said he was hurt by the insults that have been leveled at him.
“They’ve been calling me an Uncle Tom, but this was never about race,” he said. “We cared about this kid. The kids are our future. I’m not going to be around for ever. We really cared about that kid.”
Defense attorneys bristled at idea that the verdict from the jury of six whites should be written off to racism.
“Two of the defendants were African-American,” said Robert Sombathy, the attorney for Garrett. “I don’t hear the NAACP trying to make an issue out of them. Race is not an issue in this case.”
Anderson, a ninth-grader who was sent to the Bay County Sheriff’s Department Juvenile Boot Camp for stealing his grandmother’s car, was only a few hours into his stay when he allegedly participated in a mandatory run for 10 minutes, then stopped and refused to continue.
During the 30-minute altercation that ensued — captured on surveillance video that attorneys for both sides repeatedly dissected during the trial — seven guards took turns restraining Anderson against a pole, pinning him to the ground and occasionally kneeing and hitting him to gain compliance.
In the melee, Schmidt stood outside the group as guards wrestled Anderson to the ground and then attempted to rouse him by waving ammonia caps under his nose.
The camp was closed a few months after the teen’s death.
I’m still pickin pieces of my brain outta the carpet because my head exploded when I read this.