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Calls for justice rise in boot camp death

Community leaders and family gather before the second autopsy of Martin Lee Anderson.

Published March 12, 2006

TAMPA - The parents of 14-year-old Martin Lee Anderson, who died after a scuffle with guards in a Panhandle boot camp, wanted some prayers before today's moment of truth, the second autopsy of their son.

At a Sunday evening church service at Without Walls International Church, prayers were just the beginning.

The roughly 3,500 people there gave repeated standing ovations to speakers who called for justice.

Phoned-in condolences from the Rev. Jesse Jackson and Jock Smith, a senior partner of the Cochran Firm, founded by Johnnie Cochran, played on loudspeakers.

The family listened as their attorneys, Benjamin Crump and Daryl Parks, fielded questions during a 30-minute press conference at the start of the service.

And the parents prayed with the pastor, Randy White, who announced the church was giving them $15,000 to help pay for expenses incurred during their ordeal.

"We're going to pray for the (Hillsborough County) State Attorney Mark Ober," White said. "And pray that he makes the right decision."

It was only a sampling of the public support Anderson's parents, Robert Anderson and Gina Jones, have received since their son died on Jan. 6, a day after he was manhandled by guards at the juvenile boot camp.

An autopsy performed by the Bay County medical examiner ruled that a complication from the sickle cell trait, not the videotaped struggle, caused the death.

Lawmakers and the boy's family demanded a second autopsy, and Gov. Jeb Bush appointed Ober to oversee the investigation.

The second autopsy will be performed in Tampa today at 9 a.m. by Hillsborough County medical examiner Vernard Adams.

New York forensic investigator Michael Baden, who has been featured on the HBO show Autopsy, was hired by the family to participate in the autopsy and review the findings.

It was unclear Sunday whether Baden will be allowed to participate. If he is barred from observing the autopsy, he will perform a third procedure at an undisclosed funeral home.

"We're still working things out (with the State Attorney's Office)," attorney Parks said. "We've had some disagreements, which I won't get into."

Some people, including local NAACP leaders, are concerned that Ober may be racially biased.

He handled the case of Jennifer Porter, a white teacher who was involved in a hit-and-run accident that left two black children dead. She was charged with leaving the scene of an accident and was sentenced to house arrest.

Anderson was black.

NAACP leaders and members throughout the state are expected to attend a rally this morning at the Medical Examiner's Office. The family will arrive at 7 a.m. If Sunday night's Without Walls service was any indication, it appears that plenty of supporters, some in high places, are prepared to fight for a thorough examination in the case.

"Justice has been turned upside down, and it is our responsibility to right this egregious wrong," said Smith, the Cochran Firm senior partner. "The evidence is bad, and the apparent coverup is worse."

"Amen," the congregation answered.

[Last modified March 12, 2006, 22:55:02]

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