updated 10/12/2007 4:12:57 AM ET 2007-10-12T08:12:57

A 14-year-old boy died because seven juvenile boot camp guards and a nurse lacked good judgment and decided to use force against him rather than calling for medical help, a prosecutor told jurors in closing arguments Thursday.

Attorneys for the eight defendants said Martin Lee Anderson’s death was the unavoidable consequence of his genetic blood disorder, and alleged that the manslaughter charges were part of a “twisted agenda” by former Gov. Jeb Bush and others who were under fire from civil rights groups.

Prosecutor Mike Sinacore said the defendants ignored common sense in the 30-minute videotaped altercation with Anderson in January 2006. The guards repeatedly hit, kneed and dragged the limp boy around after he collapsed while running laps. The nurse stood by watching.

“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,” Sinacore said.

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.

Defendants face 30 years in prison
The eight former employees of the now-closed military-style camp run by the county sheriff 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.

Prosecutors say the guards suffocated Anderson by repeatedly covering his mouth and making him inhale ammonia. They also say the defendants, as Anderson’s legal guardians, failed to provide reasonable care and neglected him.

“They went way too far, further than they had ever gone before. They suffocated Martin Anderson,” prosecutor Scott Harmon said.

James White, attorney for guard Raymond Hauck, called state officials “Monday morning quarterbacks” who decided to appoint the special prosecutor and order a second autopsy because they didn’t like the results of an autopsy by Dr. Charles Siebert, the medical examiner for Bay County.

“This got out of kilter early with demonstrators, relentless news coverage and private attorneys,” White said. “The state has tried everything in the world through its twisted agenda to rewrite history.”

Disagreement on cause of death
Siebert ruled that Anderson died of natural causes from undiagnosed sickle cell trait, a usually harmless blood disorder found in one in eight black people. The trait can hinder cells carrying oxygen during physical stress.

Another autopsy done by the medical examiner for Hillsborough County found the guards suffocated Anderson through their repeated use of ammonia capsules and by covering his mouth.

Ammonia capsules in dispute
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 that he continue exercising.

“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.”

Attorney Waylon Graham, who represents guard Charles Helms, accused the state of causing Anderson’s death by not disclosing that he tested positive for sickle cell trait when he was born in 1991 in routine screening.

Sinacore said sickle cell trait was not the direct cause of Anderson’s death, and noted that 3 million Americans have the trait and do not have physical limitations. Some are professional athletes, he said.

Sombathy said elite athletes who had collapsed from sickle cell trait had died as quickly as Anderson. It was not reasonable to expect the defendants to have foreseen Anderson’s condition, he said.

Jonathan Dingus, an attorney for guard Henry McFadden, talked to jurors about an obscenity Anderson used before he collapsed while running laps and another obscenity he used as he was struggling with the guards. Dingus said it was unreasonable for the guards to think Anderson was in need of medical attention.

“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,” Dingus said.

Juror dismissed
The judge began Thursday’s session by announcing that one of the jurors had become ill and had been dismissed from jury panel.

Before court began, Circuit Judge Michael Overstreet agreed to allow Robert Anderson, the boy’s father, to remain in the courtroom. On Wednesday, Overstreet banned Anderson and others with him from the courtroom after he said there had been complaints about the group making noises during testimony.

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