August, 21 2017

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Florida Boot Camp Case Closing Arguments

A 14-year-old boy's death after a videotaped altercation with seven guards and a nurse at a juvenile boot camp was the unavoidable consequence of his genetic blood disorder, defense attorneys for the former camp employees told jurors in closing arguments Thursday.

The attorneys also said manslaughter charges were brought against the eight by a special prosecutor from Hillsborough County as part of a "twisted agenda" by former Gov. Jeb Bush and others who were under fire from civil rights groups.

Recounting the Video and the Facts

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

Prosecutor Scott Harmon said the video told jurors what they needed 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 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.

And he pointed to omissions in incident reports compiled by the defendants in the hours 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."

What the Defendants Face if Convicted

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.

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.

Defense's Remarks

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.

Siebert, who did an autopsy on Anderson the day of his death, ruled Anderson died of natural causes from undiagnosed sickle cell trait, a usually harmless blood disorder found in one in eight African-Americans. The trait can hinder cells carrying oxygen during physical stress.

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.

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

Attorney Waylon Graham, who represents guard Charles Helms, accussed 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 done on every black child in Florida.

"The very state that is prosecuting these men and this woman was in the possession of this simple test that they have performed on Martin Anderson," he said. "Surely this state hasn't become such a convoluted bureaucracy that the left hand doesn't know what the right hand is doing."

Ashley Benedik, defense attorney for boot camp nurse Kristin Schmidt, said her client did what she could to asses Anderson's medical condition. Schmidt could not have foreseen Anderson was dying of an exertion sickle cell collapse, she said.

"All she knows is 30 minutes earlier she had looked at his medical records, she has eyeballed him herself and 30 minutes earlier he was perfectly healthy," she said.

Schmidt, like the others, thought Anderson was feigning illness to get out of exercise on his first day at the camp, he said.

Benedik called Anderson's death unforeseeable

"It has become abundantly clear from the evidence that Martin Lee Anderson died of exertional sickle cell collapse and the state refused to accept that from the first autopsy and has chosen to put these people through a living hell," she said.

Before court began Thursday, Overstreet agreed to allow Robert Anderson, the boy's father, to remain in the courtroom. On Wednesday, Overstreet banned Anderson and others with him from the courtroom after he said there had been complaints about the group making noises during testimony.

Also Thursday, one of the defendants, guard Joseph Walsh II, was not in court. The judge said Walsh was ill. Defense attorneys said Walsh had been taken to the hospital Wednesday night because of stress. Walsh's attorney said Thursday evening that he did not anticipate Walsh would return to the court on Friday.

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