Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Boot Camp Death Trial Starts

Wednesday October 3, 2007 3:46 PM


Associated Press Writer

PANAMA CITY, Fla. (AP) - Protesters say they doubt a mostly white jury will be impartial in the trial of seven juvenile boot camp guards and a nurse charged in the death of 14-year-old black inmate.

Police said there were no disturbances outside the court as Circuit Judge Michael Overstreet read instructions to the jury about the death of Martin Lee Anderson. His parents were sitting in court, which is across the street from the now-closed boot camp.

The Florida State Conference of the NAACP said it would demonstrate outside the courthouse over the jury makeup - five jurors are white and one is Asian - and the decision to hold the trial in Bay County in the Florida Panhandle, where the case has received heavy attention.

``Collectively, these concerted actions by both the 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 Wednesday seeking additional comment.

Anderson was black; the guards are white, black and Asian. The boy died in January 2006 after being taken to a hospital from the boot camp, which was run by the 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. An exercise yard videotape shows the seven guards repeatedly hitting the boy with their fists and knees. The camp nurse is accused of watching but doing nothing during most of the 30-minute encounter.

The eight defendants are charged with aggravated manslaughter of a child, which carries a maximum penalty of 30 years in prison.

A first autopsy on Anderson, conducted by the Bay County medical examiner, attributed his death to natural complications of a genetic blood disorder. After an outcry from Anderson's family and the public, his body was exhumed and a second autopsy by another doctor found he had suffocated.

The state Legislature dismantled the state's military-style youth boot camps after Anderson's death. The case also led to the resignation of the chief of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

The Legislature agreed to pay Anderson's family $5 million this year to settle civil claims.

(This version CORRECTS that jury is mostly white, not all white.)

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