Guards On Trial For Teen's Death

Wednesday, October 3rd 2007, 10:46 am
By: News On 6

PANAMA CITY, Fla. (AP) Seven former juvenile boot camp guards and a nurse were responsible for a teenager's death because they repeatedly hit him and failed to get him help, a prosecutor said Wednesday as their manslaughter trial began.

Prosecutor Pam Bondi described parts of a video 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 lay limp for most of the time and the nurse watched.

She also said the guards held their hands over the boy's mouth and shoved ammonia capsules up his nose.

``Their job was to teach discipline, but first and foremost to do no harm,'' Prosecutor Pam Bondi said of the defendants, later adding: ``This was no accident. This was a child who was killed.''

Defense attorneys said in their opening statements that Martin Lee Anderson died of a rare genetic blood disorder and not the actions of camp employees.

``This case didn't start on Jan. 5, 2006, it started Jan. 15, 1991, when Martin Lee Anderson was born with sickle cell trait,'' said Robert Sombathy, attorney for guard Patrick Garrett.

An initial autopsy by the local medical examiner said the death was due to natural complications of the disorder. But a special prosecutor ordered a second autopsy by another doctor, who found the guards suffocated Martin Lee Anderson with their hands and by making him breathe ammonia.

Anderson's parents watched intently as Prosecutor Pam Bondi described the videotape and the investigation of his death. His father held his face up with his hands at times before the defense spoke.

The case has generated intense media attention and civil rights groups doubt a mostly white jury will be impartial. Martin Lee Anderson was black; the guards are white, black and Asian.

The seven guards and the nurse face up to 30 years in prison each if convicted of aggravated manslaughter of a child.

As the trial started, 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 Florida 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.

Martin Lee Anderson died in January 2006 after being taken to a hospital from the boot camp, which was run by the Bay 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 Florida Legislature dismantled the state's system of youth boot camps after Martin Lee 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 Martin Lee Anderson's family $5 million earlier this year to settle civil claims.