An all white Florida jury acquitted eight former boot camp guards and a nurse of manslaughter in the death of 14-year-old Martin Lee Anderson.
PLN previously reported upon the beating and dragged death of Martin while the nurse stood idly by watching. See: PLN, July, 2007.
After a three week trial, the jury rendered its verdict in 90 minutes.
The evidence included a videotape of the guards applying punches, pressure grips, and kneeings while they dragged Martin around the boot camp’s exercise yard. When Martin fell out, the guards forced him to inhale ammonia capsules in an attempt, they say, to revive him. All the while, the nurse just stood by watching.
Because the incident was captured on video, the central theme at trial was what caused Martin’s death. The defense argued that Martin died because of an undiagnosed sickle cell trait, which is a usually harmless blood disorder that can hinder blood cells’ ability to carry oxygen during physical stress. The prosecution argued the guards suffocated Martin by covering his mouth and forcing him to inhale ammonia.
Both sides had something to latch onto during trial. The first autopsy conducted by Dr. Charles Siebert concluded Martin died of natural causes from sickle cell trail. After a public outcry, a second autopsy was conducted, which concluded death by suffocation caused by repeated use of ammonia capsules and by covering Martin’s mouth.
After the verdict, Dr. Siebert said, “I am feeling a little vindicated.
People got to see a lot more than what’s been publicized in the media.”
Siebert added that he was going to celebrate with some of the guards. In the last six years, guards have celebrated after being acquitted in the beating death of a prisoner at Zephyrhills Correctional Institution and the stomping death of death row prisoner Frank Valdez at Florida State Prison.
“You kill a dog, you go to jail,” said Anderson family attorney Benjamin Crump. “You kill a little black boy and nothing happens.”
While special prosecutor Mark Ober said he was “extremely disappointed” in the verdicts, he found positives in Florida’s juvenile boot camp system being dismantled. “In spite of these verdicts, Martin Lee Anderson did not die in vain. This case brought needed attention and reform to our juvenile justice system.”
State authorities imposed boot camp on Martin after he violated probation for stealing his grand mother’s car and trespassing at a school. “What was supposed to happen is that Martin was supposed to go in there and come out and be a better man,” said his father Robert Anderson. “Well, he was a 14-year-old child and he never came out. There’s no other proof I need that boot camps don’t work.” For that matter, neither does Florida’s justice system when a guard is charged in the death of a prisoner. As PLN reported in its July, 2007, issue, the state of Florida settled the civil suit brought by Martin’s family for $7,425,00.00.
Sources: Washington Post; Associated Press/CBS.
As a digital subscriber to Prison Legal News, you can access full text and downloads for this and other premium content.
Already a subscriber? Login