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Who to blame for teen’s bootcamp death

PANAMA CITY, Fla. – The case against eight former boot-camp employees charged with letting a 14-year-old die is more complicated than a videotape of cops beating a boy until he falls into a coma and later dies. In fact, the punches and kicks Martin Lee Anderson suffered for almost 30 minutes, recorded on the tape, have little to do with the case against the seven former guards and a nurse.

Why? The jury has heard repeatedly that the blows had little or nothing to do with Anderson’s death.

Instead, the prosecution is relying on complicated and conflicting medical theories to explain why the guards and the nurse are to blame for Anderson’s death. And their key theory is so novel, all the experts agree no one has ever come up with it before “in the history of the world.”

But even the Tampa medical examiner who came up with the theory, Dr. Vernard Adams, acknowledged during trial that science has never recorded a previous case of death by ammonia capsule. He explained that his theory was the first of its kind – even though ammonia capsules have been used for generations – because no one has ever used ammonia as often or for as long as the guards did in handling Anderson.

The defense claimed that Adams was pressured to come up with a reason for Anderson’s death that implicated the Bay County guards because the first autopsy, done in Bay County, found Anderson died of sickle-cell trait.

The genetic condition is normally benign, and can only be inherited by black people. With the videotape being played on the news all over the country, politicians were eager to find something besides being black to blame for Anderson’s death, the defense has argued.

The defense also presented its own expert to dispute Adams’ theory, and has put each of the defendants on the stand to explain exactly why they never thought what they were doing to Anderson would hurt him.

Each said they thought Anderson was faking an illness in order to avoid exercise and that they had seen dozens of previous inmates try the same thing.

The main evidence against the guards and the nurse: Dr. Adams’ theory of suffocation linked to the use of the ammonia capsules, which he said would have killed anyone, with or without sickle-cell trait.

-A New Hampshire medical examiner said Anderson died of sickle-cell trait that was aggravated by the stress of the prolonged beating and the use of ammonia, causing intermittent suffocation. But he said Anderson did not die of suffocation.

-The videotape, which even the defense has admitted, is hard to watch.

-The fact that the guards and the nurse failed to tell doctors at hospitals in Panama City and Pensacola, Fla., that Anderson was beaten, suggests they were hiding something.

-A detective who reviewed about 100 hours of boot-camp video, of all the times guards had physically disciplined inmates since 1994, said none of the episodes lasted as long as the beating of Anderson.

The defense has focused on the conflicts between the state’s experts. They found a prominent national expert – Dr. Edward Eichner – on sickle-cell trait who backs up the initial autopsy done in Bay County calling it a “classic case” of sickle-cell collapse.

The defense has other factors working in its favor:

-Anderson’s medical records show the carbon-dioxide level in his blood was low when he was hospitalized, but victims of suffocation generally have high levels of CO2, all the experts agreed. Several doctors offered convoluted theories for how the level got so low.

-The charge of aggravated manslaughter requires that the jury find the defendants knew or should have known that their actions would cause death or serious injury, but the state has acknowledged no one at the camp knew Anderson had sickle-cell trait.

The jury is set to begin deliberations today.

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