PANAMA CITY – The body of 14-year-old who died after he was beaten at a boot camp for juvenile offenders was exhumed and sent to Tampa on Friday for a second autopsy.
Martin Lee Anderson died Jan. 6, one day after he entered the Bay County Boot Camp. A surveillance video show a half-dozen guards punching and kneeing him.
The Bay County Medical Examiner blamed the boy’s death on a blood disorder, sickle cell trait, not the beating.
Family members, state civil rights advocates and some doctors disputed the autopsy findings.
At the request of the Bay County state attorney, Gov. Jeb Bush appointed Hillsborough State Attorney Mark Ober to investigate.
Ober ordered a second autopsy, which will be done by the Hillsborough medical examiner Monday. Family members have hired a nationally known forensic investigator to view the autopsy and review the findings.
On Friday, his mother, father and sister watched as his black-and-gray steel casket was slowly raised from the earth.
State law enforcement officials wrapped the casket in plastic and evidence tape for the trip to Tampa.
The teen’s parents were too upset to discuss the case, so their attorney spoke for them.
“It’s just an awful shame that we would have to go through these extraordinary measures just to get justice,” said Benjamin Crump of Tallahassee. “We feel very confident that Martin Lee Anderson did not die of natural causes and we think clearly that the autopsy will support that.”
The political fallout has reverberated statewide.
Bay Sheriff Frank McKeithen announced that he would close the boot camp, and the remaining offenders were transferred Tuesday. State lawmakers are reviewing whether the state’s other boot camps – one is in Pinellas – are cost-effective and safe. And some civil rights activists are citing the lack of prosecution of the guards as evidence of racism.
“In 2006, we are still fighting for our rights,” fumed Sen. Frederica Wilson, D-Miami. “Would you ever have predicted that we, in America, in the state of Florida, would have to endure the same kinds of tragedies of racism, bigotry and hate?”
Martin Anderson was sentenced to six months at the boot camp after violating probation for stealing his grandmother’s car in June 2005.
“He was at church the day he stole his grandmother’s car,” said Deval Russell, leader of Martin’s youth group at church. “He was a very positive kid. He was also very strong-minded and had the potential to go far.”
The youth’s mother, who works at Burger King, and his father, a truck driver, hoped the boot camp would stamp out the teen’s rebellious streak. He entered the camp Jan. 5.
Family members hope their expert, Michael Baden of New York, will determine how their son died. Baden headed a forensic panel that reinvestigated the deaths of President Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and reviewed medical evidence in the slaying of civil rights leader Medgar Evers. Baden will be in the room during the autopsy.
On Friday, several church leaders and community members – all black – gathered at the cemetery to offer prayers for Martin and his family. Many noted that the cemetery is one of the region’s oldest black burial grounds, a resting place for the area’s earliest black settlers who braved racism in the decades after the Civil War.
“This is a resurrection for justice,” Dr. Rufus Wood, of the Love Center Baptist Church, told the 50 people gathered before Martin’s open grave. “Justice will be served.”