Closing Arguments in Boot Camp Trial

The Associated Press
Thursday, October 11, 2007; 10:33 PM

PANAMA CITY, Fla. -- A 14-year-old boy died because seven juvenile boot camp guards and a nurse lacked good judgment and decided to use force against him rather than call for medical help, a prosecutor said in closing arguments Thursday before the case went to the jury.

Attorneys for the eight defendants said Martin Lee Anderson's death was the unavoidable consequence of his genetic blood disorder and alleged that the manslaughter charges were part of a "twisted agenda" by former Gov. Jeb Bush and others who were under fire from civil rights groups.

A prosecutor played segments of a 30-minute video showing the guards repeatedly slamming Anderson on the ground, dragging his limp body around the boot camp exercise yard and hitting him.

The video, prosecutor Scott Harmon said, shows jurors what they need to know about the actions of the eight defendants.

"They are manhandling this kid who is basically fluid in their hands," Harmon said. "You may not hear anything coming out of that video sound-wise, but that video is screaming to you in a loud, clear voice; it is telling you that these defendants killed Martin Lee Anderson."

Anderson died because the guards crossed a line, he said.

"They went way too far, further than they had ever gone before. They suffocated Martin Anderson," Harmon said.

He pointed to omissions in reports compiled by the defendants after the incident.

"The cover-up started immediately," Harmon said. "This fabrication, this cover-up begins, and it continues all the way until this week in front of you."

The defendants face as many as 30 years in prison if convicted of aggravated manslaughter of a child. Jurors could decide to acquit them of manslaughter but convict them of lesser charges including child neglect or culpable negligence.

Anderson died Jan. 6, 2006, when he was taken off life support, a day after his altercation with the guards.

A defense attorney said convicting the guards would be like spitting on troops fighting an unpopular war.

"They have not brought in one witness to say those tactics are illegal. That those wrist bends, those knee strikes are improper," said Robert Sombathy, who represents guard Patrick Garrett.

If jurors found those tactics are wrong, every boot camp in the state would be guilty of child neglect, he said. Florida ended its military boot camp system last year because of the Anderson case.

In his closing argument, James White, attorney for guard Raymond Hauck, called state officials "Monday morning quarterbacks" who decided to appoint the special prosecutor and order a second autopsy because they didn't like the results of an autopsy by Dr. Charles Siebert, the medical examiner for Bay County.

"This got out of kilter early with demonstrators, relentless news coverage and private attorneys," White said. "The state has tried everything in the world through its twisted agenda to rewrite history."

Siebert ruled that Anderson died of natural causes from undiagnosed sickle cell trait, a usually harmless blood disorder. Another autopsy done by the medical examiner for Hillsborough County found the guards suffocated Anderson through their repeated use of ammonia capsules and by covering his mouth.

Each of the defendants testified that ammonia capsules were used to try to revive the boy. But prosecutor Mike Sinacore said they actually used the capsules to try to force Anderson to comply with their demands that he continue exercising.

"Physical force is applied in between and during the ammonia applications even though (Anderson) clearly wants you to stop," he said. "Finally medical action is taken when Martin Lee Anderson is in a coma."

Attorney Waylon Graham, who represents guard Charles Helms, accused the state of causing Anderson's death by not disclosing that he tested positive for sickle cell trait when he was born in 1991 in routine screening.

Sinacore said sickle cell trait was not the direct cause of Anderson's death, and noted that 3 million Americans have the trait and do not have physical limitations. Some are professional athletes, he said.

Sombathy said elite athletes who had collapsed from sickle cell trait had died as quickly as Anderson. It was not reasonable to expect the defendants to have foreseen Anderson's condition, he said.

Jonathan Dingus, an attorney for guard Henry McFadden, talked to jurors about an obscenity Anderson used before he collapsed while running laps and another obscenity he used as he was struggling with the guards. Dingus said it was unreasonable for the guards to think Anderson was in need of medical attention.

"There was nothing to show that this was anything but a healthy, foul-mouthed, out-of-control young man who was malingering out on that field," Dingus said.

© 2007 The Associated Press