PANAMA CITY, Fla. – Seven juvenile boot camp guards and a nurse either acted properly as caretakers of a 14-year-old boy, or became frustrated and crossed a line because he repeatedly refused to comply with their orders to run laps around an exercise field.
Jurors in the manslaughter trial of the eight were to decide which account of the teen's death was more plausible in deliberations set to begin Friday.
Prosecutors say the eight neglected the boy by not meeting his medical needs during an altercation captured on a surveillance camera in the camp's exercise yard. They say the defendants killed Anderson by covering his mouth and forcing him to inhale fumes from ammonia capsules while striking him with their fists and knees.
"This case is about the failure of caregivers to provide Martin Lee Anderson with the care that any prudent person would deem necessary and essential to the well-being of a child," prosecutor Mike Sinacore told jurors in closing arguments Thursday.
Defense attorneys say Anderson's death was unavoidable because he had undiagnosed sickle cell trait, a usually harmless blood disorder. The disorder can hinder blood cells' ability to carry oxygen during physical stress.
Prosecutors say the seven men and boot camp nurse Kristin Schmidt continued to punish Anderson through compliance techniques even when it became obvious something was seriously wrong the teen.
"They are manhandling this kid who is basically fluid in their hands," prosecutor Scott Harmon said as he showed a segment of the 30-minute video to the jury. "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 defendants killed Martin Lee Anderson."
The defendants saw Anderson as one of hundreds of juvenile offenders who was simply refusing to comply with requirements when he collapsed on his first day in the camp and wouldn't continue exercising, defense attorneys said.
They say Anderson initially caught their clients' attention because he used profanity.
"There was nothing to show that this was anything but a healthy, foul-mouthed, out-of-control, young man who was malingering out on that field," Jonathan Dingus, defense attorney for guard Henry McFadden, told jurors.
Anderson died Jan. 6, 2006, when he was taken off life support, a day after his altercation with the guards.
The defendants face as many as 30 years in prison if convicted of aggravated manslaughter of child. Jurors could decide to acquit them of manslaughter, but convict them of lesser charges including child neglect or culpable negligence.
A defense attorney said convicting the guards would be like spitting on troops fighting an unpopular war.
"They have not brought in one witness to say those tactics are illegal. That those wrist bends, those knee strikes are improper," said Robert Sombathy, who represents guard Patrick Garrett.
If jurors found those tactics are wrong, every boot camp in the state would be guilty of child neglect, he said. Florida ended its military boot camp system last year because of the Anderson case.
Ashley Benedik, defense attorney for Schmidt, said the nurse did what she could to assess Anderson's medical condition and that she could not have foreseen Anderson was dying of an exertion sickle cell collapse.
Each of the defendants testified that ammonia capsules were used to try to revive the boy. But Sinacore said they actually used the capsules to try to force Anderson to comply with their demands to keep exercising.
Sinacore told jurors that 16 minutes into the video, the men continued to apply ammonia and use physical force on Anderson as he became increasingly limp. Their actions continued for 10 more minutes, he said.
"Physical force is applied in between and during the ammonia applications even though (Anderson) clearly wants you to stop," he said. "Finally medical action is taken when Martin Lee Anderson is in a coma."