Youngest Deerfield Beach burn suspect can't be tried as adult, prosecutors say

Jeremy Jarvis, 13, left, is a suspect in the burning of Michael Brewer, 15. (Joe Cavaretta, Carline Jean, Sun Sentinel file)

The youngest of the five teenagers accused of surrounding their Deerfield Beach schoolmate last week and setting him on fire cannot legally be tried as an adult, the lead prosecutor on the case said Friday.

Jeremy Jarvis, 13, is too young to be tried in adult court under Florida law unless he faces a capital or life felony, said Assistant State Attorney Maria Schneider. With 15-year-old Michael Brewer recuperating at the Jackson Memorial Hospital Burn Center in Miami, the most serious possible charge against any of the suspects would be first-degree attempted murder, and that would not be enough to charge Jeremy as an adult, Schneider said.

A murder charge would qualify. Broward prosecutors charged Lionel Tate with first-degree murder as an adult though he was only 12 at the time he killed 6-year-old Tiffany Eunick in 1999.

Schneider said charges against Jeremy and the other four accused teenagers have not been decided yet. Prosecutors are reviewing hours of recorded statements and other evidence before they reach a final decision on what formal charges to file in connection with the Oct. 12 attack.

Schneider also said no decision has been reached on whether the other teenagers will be charged as adults. She acknowledged receiving "dozens and dozens" of e-mails urging her not to treat the boys as children.

"We are public servants," Schneider said of the State Attorney's Office. "We need to know the feelings of the community. But we can't be swayed by it."

Jeremy's lawyer, Stephen Melnick, sounded relieved when told of Schneider's statements, but he declined to comment further Friday afternoon.

Because the other defendants are all over the age of 14, they could be tried legally as adults. The one accused of setting the blaze, Jesus Mendez, turns 16 today. Jeremy's brother, Denver Colorado Jarvis, accused of pouring rubbing alcohol on Michael, is 15. Accused ringleader Matthew Bent is 15. And the last accused member of the group, Steven Shelton, is 16.

All were arrested on aggravated assault charges except Mendez, who faced the additional charge of attempted murder.

The defendants are scheduled to appear in court again on Nov. 2. Until then, they are being held in a juvenile detention facility.

Brewer's family said Saturday that the burned teen is making progress. Some of the swelling he had been experiencing has gone down, some of his hair is growing back and he's responding to family members being at his bedside, said the teen's great-aunt Patti Gendron.

"He's nodding his head," she said. "He knows we're there."

Rafael Olmeda can be reached at rolmeda@sunsentinel.com or 954-356-4694.