ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:
In Florida this afternoon, a jury found seven former boot camp guards and a nurse not guilty of manslaughter and the death of a 14-year-old boy. Martin Lee Anderson died after the guards hit, kicked and beat him after he had collapsed while exercising. It was all caught on videotape. State lawmakers scrapped Florida's system of boot camps for juvenile offenders after public outcry over the death.
Florida Public Radio's Trimmel Gomes joins us now from the courthouse in Panama City. And Trimmel, you've been in court this week. What was the reaction there to the verdicts today?
TRIMMEL GOMES: Well, the reaction came very instant. The verdict came out. The mother, she stood up as she could not stay there to wait until dawn. They released - everyone is in the courtroom. She actually stormed out of the room, saying, I can't see my son no more, but everybody get to see their family, and that's wrong. So everyone was shocked. On the defense side, their family, they were weeping. Some were smiling, some were hugging each other and just relieved to see that their family members got the verdict of not guilty.
SIEGEL: Mm-hmm. The defense prevailed here. What kind of defense did the defense did the lawyers put up for the guards and the nurse?
GOMES: The defense said they followed the rules. And they followed the rules at get-tough facility. And they weren't doing anything wrong. This was the procedure - normal procedure that they were following. And they actually said that how young offenders - they usually fake their illnesses, so they weren't able to tell whether Anderson was telling the truth or not. And the defense also argued that this was the result of an undiagnosed sickle cell trait, and that's why Anderson died.
SIEGEL: Well, the defense said they were following the rules, what did the tape of the beating show?
GOMES: Well, the tape showing the guards kicking, dragging and even the nurse standing by and watching as the guards - well, in the defense argument, tried to revive him. But others were saying that's how they were actually punishing him for being limp, not being able to continue with the rigorous exercise that he was put there up.
SIEGEL: This was his first day at the boot camp?
GOMES: Yes, it was his first day at the boot camp. He actually got in trouble for violating his probation. He actually stole his grandmother's car. And as a result, he was sent to the boot camp to get himself in order.
SIEGEL: The victim, Martin Lee Anderson, was black. The guards were white, black and Asian. The jury was all white. And it reached its decision in an hour-and-a-half. How much did race factor in this case?
GOMES: Race played a big factor in this case. The family's civil attorney, Benjamin Crump, he actually said right after the verdict was announced how they killed a black boy. You kill a dog, you go to jail. You kill a little black boy and nothing happened.
SIEGEL: We should add here that the Florida legislature did agree earlier this year to pay Martin Lee Anderson's family $5 million that was to settle civil claims against the state. So there has been an acknowledgment of responsibility by the state. It's just the individuals here were not found criminally responsible for what they did.
GOMES: That's correct. The family, they were given $5 million to - for the civil claims that they made to the state. Now, some people are questioning that given to them now that the verdict found the defendants not guilty. So that will be something of question that the Governor Charlie Crist will have to deal with political fallout in making that decision.
SIEGEL: It's Trimmel Gomes, reporter with Florida Public Radio. Trimmel, thank you very much.
GOMES: Thank you.
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