A nurse saw a 14-year-old boy being repeatedly beaten and forced to inhale ammonia by seven guards hours before the teen died, but she failed to tell anything her supervisors. It happened at a military-style youth offender camp in Florida.
A pediatrician, Dr. Shairi Turner, testified in the voluntary manslaughter trial of nurse Kristin Schmidt and the guards. Defendants are charged with killing Martin Lee Anderson. Turner was the state's last witness before the prosecution wrapped up its case.
The boy died on Jan. 6, 2006 at a Pensacola hospital, a day after the 30-minute videotaped altercation with the guards at the Panama City boot camp, which was run by the Bay County sheriff's office and overseen by the state. His death sparked outrage and led Florida lawmakers to order that all such camps in the state be shut down.
Turner said she called Schmidt the morning of the death. Prosecutor Pam Bondi asked Turner whether the information on Anderson being roughed up and forced to breathe ammonia would have been important to her and for the emergency room physicians and paramedics treating the boy. Turner said it would have been.
Prosecutors say the guards suffocated Anderson by covering his mouth and forcing him to inhale ammonia fumes. He had collapsed after running laps.
Defense attorneys say Anderson's death was unavoidable because he had undiagnosed sickle cell trait, a genetic blood disorder. The usually benign disorder can cause blood cells to shrivel into a sickle shape and limit their ability to carry oxygen under physical stress.
Turner testified that sickle cell trait was not something that would have excluded Anderson from participating in the boot camp program under Department of Juvenile Justice standards. Sickle cell trait is not the same thing as sickle cell anemia, a serious blood disorder, she said.
Waylon Graham, the attorney for guard Charles Helms, asked whether the state should have required all children be screened for sickle cell trait before they entered a boot camp.
"Based on my discussions with hematologists, a child with sickle cell trait who has been given adequate hydration is not at any more risk than any other child," Turner said.
Turner later said such screening could be done if the state wanted "to be highly conservative."
Defense attorneys were expected to start presenting their case later Monday.
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