August, 18 2018

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Florida Teen Boot Camp Case, Medical Examiner Testifies

PANAMA CITY -- Martin Lee Anderson would be alive today if Bay County Boot Camp guards hadn't repeatedly kept him from breathing, a medical examiner testified Friday in the guards' manslaughter trial.

Tampa's chief medical examiner, Dr. Vernard Adams, told the jury Anderson died of suffocation because the guards held their hands over his mouth while pushing ammonia close to his nose three separate times -- once for a full five minutes.

Disparate Examiner Results

His findings contradicted the results of the first autopsy performed by Bay County Medical Examiner Dr. Charles Siebert, who ruled that Anderson died of sickle cell trait, a normally benign condition.

Adams blamed Anderson's death on the guards, who punched and kicked him for 30 minutes and covered the teen's mouth while using the ammonia -- all of which was captured on videotape.

''It's not reasonable to conclude he died a natural death when the video clearly shows -- and it's not necessary to be a medical expert to determine this -- it clearly shows his airway was significantly obstructed,'' Adams said.

About the Boot Camp Case

The teen died Jan. 6, 2006, the day after he was admitted to the Bay County Boot Camp. The seven guards and a boot camp nurse, who watched the entire incident, were charged with manslaughter after Adams released his findings.

He was brought into the case after a public outcry over the videotaped beating prompted the governor to question Bay County authorities' handling of the case.

Adams said he did find the signs of sickle cells that Siebert found in Anderson's organs, but he concluded the ''sickling'' did not kill the teen.

''All of that sickling can be explained by lack of oxygen after he was brain dead'' in the hospital, he said.

Adams also concluded that none of the blows against Anderson was severe enough to kill him.

The defense has argued that Anderson died of ''exertional sickle cell collapse'' while jogging at the boot camp.

But Adams said that wasn't enough to kill him. ''If Martin Lee Anderson fell during the run as a result of sickling, would he have survived, but for the actions of the guards?'' prosecutor Mike Sinacore asked.

''I believe so, yes,'' Adams responded.

Sinacore asked if Anderson would have died if the guards had not used the ammonia. Adams said yes, because they covered his mouth so long.

''And no ammonia, no hands, the guards not touching him at all, what happens to your opinion then?'' Sinacore asked.

''No opinion -- because he's not dead,'' Adams replied.

During cross-examination by defense attorneys, Adams insisted he was not pressured to contradict Siebert's findings.

Debating the Facts of the Case

Defense attorney Waylon Graham asked him why he thought the use of ammonia could have killed Anderson when nothing like that has ever been recorded ``in the history of the world.''

''This is the only place in the world to my knowledge where ammonia capsules were used this way,'' Adams said. ``So no other deaths would have occurred.

Adams said he didn't think his findings conflicted with Dr. Thomas Andrew, chief medical examiner for the state of New Hampshire, who testified for the prosecution on Wednesday. Andrew told jurors Anderson died of sickle cell trait aggravated by the beating and the suffocation.

''What I said is it's reasonable sickle cell contributed to his death. What Dr. Andrew said was it's more likely than not that sickle cell contributed to his death,'' Adams explained.

''But for Martin Lee Anderson's sickle cell trait, would he have survived boot camp?'' defense attorney Bob Sombathy asked.

''There's where we differ,'' Adams said. ``My opinion is . . . this suffocation would have killed anybody.''

Testimony is expected to continue through next week. If convicted, the eight defendants each face 30 years in prison.

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