BOOT-CAMP DEATH : Trial has making
of epic battle
The case against seven boot camp
guards and a nurse in the death of a teen will be tough for
prosecutors, who can expect the jury to be skeptical of charges
against the officers.
December 3, 2006
BY CAROL MARBIN MILLER
Bay County's classic revival
courthouse rises like a sentinel from Panama City's sleepy downtown,
all grand white columns and faded yellow brick. Over the years, it
has been the site of some of the state's, and the nation's, epic
Among them was Clarence Gideon's
1963 fight for a lawyer he could not afford -- a case that led the
U.S. Supreme Court to declare that access to a defense lawyer is an
absolute right -- and the struggles of Freddie Pitts and Wilbert
Lee, two Death Row inmates, to be cleared of wrongful convictions in
the murder of a Panhandle gas station attendant.
Now, once again, the Bay County
Courthouse will host a legal drama that could help shape the future
of Florida. Tinged with racial overtones and the clash of cultures
as new Florida meets old, the trial of seven boot camp guards and a
nurse in the death of 14-year-old Martin Lee Anderson will be
watched throughout the nation.
''I think this is going to be a
very, very explosive trial,'' said Benjamin Crump, a Tallahassee
lawyer who represents the dead teen's parents, Robert Anderson and
The outcome of the case is far from
clear, though attorneys on both sides -- and lawyers with experience
in similar cases -- say special prosecutor Mark Ober, the
Hillsborough County state attorney assigned the case, faces his most
difficult case in an inhospitable climate.
The likelihood of conviction, some
observers say, may be dim in this close-knit, God-fearing,
law-and-order community where residents are more likely to speak
with a drawl than an accent.
''That prosecutor has one heck of a
job on his hands,'' said Miami lawyer Edward Carhart, a former chief
Miami-Dade prosecutor who defended a police officer charged with
covering up the death of Miami motorcyclist Arthur McDuffie. ``If he
has to try these people in the Panhandle, I give the odds as 10-1
''I don't envy the prosecutor,''
On Tuesday, Ober charged the seven
guards and nurse, Kristin Schmidt, with aggravated manslaughter of a
child, a charge that carries a maximum sentence of 30 years.
The charges say the eight failed to
provide Martin ``the care, supervision or services necessary to
maintain his physical or mental health that a prudent person would
In a short statement, Ober told
reporters the charges were meant to show that ``this conduct cannot
and will not be tolerated in our society and none of us are above
If the charges resemble anything in
recent history, it is the January 2004 indictment of two nurses in
the death of 17-year-old Omar Paisley, an Opa-locka youth who died
at the Miami juvenile lockup of a ruptured appendix after begging
with officials for three days for medical attention.
''The grand jury heard all of the
testimony and they felt that the failure to act in this case shifted
the incident from a terrible tragedy to a horrible crime,'' said
Katherine Fernandez-Rundle, Miami-Dade's top prosecutor.
''These cases take a great deal of
tenacity and determination to find ways in which to apply the law
and hold everyone responsible,'' Rundle added. ``That is what you
hope for in these cases.''
As in the Paisley case, the death
of Martin Anderson touched a raw nerve among African Americans, many
of whom feel their children are treated differently by a tough
juvenile justice system that entangles far more black children than
white. While minority children make up 46 percent of Florida's youth
population, they represent 62 percent of the youth held in
detention, state records show.
Crump, the family's attorney, said
the parents have endured harassment, threats and racial slurs in
their fight to bring justice to their son. Crump said his office has
received profanity-laced letters aimed at intimidating the family
''It begs the question: Did Martin
Lee Anderson's life have any value to it?'' Crump said.
Attorneys for the seven guards
insist such sentiments are misguided: two of the guards, Sgt. Henry
Dickens, 60, and Henry McFadden, Jr., 33, are black, and a third,
Sgt. Maj. Raymond Hauck, 48, is Korean.
They acknowledge, however, that
such sentiments surely exist.
''It's a racial tidal wave, the
racial overtones are so heavy in this case,'' said Panama City
attorney Jim White, who represents Hauck.
Trials involving law enforcement
officers -- some of the boot camp guards were civilian ''drill
instructors,'' but they were employed by the Bay County Sheriff's
Office -- present unique challenges for prosecutors.
And the challenges can be magnified
in a conservative community such as Panama City.
''It is always difficult to
prosecute law enforcement personnel, particularly if the victim, as
in this case, has a criminal history,'' said Steven Chaykin, a
former South Florida federal prosecutor who has been a criminal
defense attorney for 20 years.
``Juries are always inclined in
favor of law enforcement personnel in any situation like that.''
And the dynamic creates a kind of
role reversal between prosecutors and defense attorneys as they seek
to seat a perfect jury.
Typically, prosecutors seek
religious, conservative jurors who are likely to be trusting of
police, while defense attorneys favor jurors who are skeptical,
whose respect for law enforcement may be less rigid. But not in a
case where the defendant is in law enforcement.
''I'm looking for the little old
lady who goes to the bridge club every week who holds law
enforcement up on a pedestal, who respects the heck out of law
enforcement,'' said Waylon Graham, who represents boot camp Lt.
Charles Helms. ``She believes anything a police officer says is
``Normally, I will run away from
that old lady at trial. But in this case, I'm going to hug that
little old lady and want her there.''
Prosecutors, on the other hand,
will want ''the mavericks, the type of people you would normally
excuse in a heartbeat as a prosecutor,'' Carhart said.
The charges themselves, some
attorneys say, will make for a difficult prosecution.
In most cases in which police
officers or prison guards are accused of killing an inmate or
suspect, juries look to prosecutors to prove that the defendants
committed an act that led to a death.
But in the Bay County case, Ober
has charged the guards and nurse with failing to take action, said
attorney Jonathan Dingus, who represents McFadden.
''They are not charging a crime of
commission but a crime of omission -- that they failed to do
something they all should have supposedly done,'' he said.
``That's going to be difficult for
them to prove.''