MANATEE -- John Acosta has served his sentence and Bradenton should give him a chance.
That’s the view of a parent who served on Manatee High School’s advisory council from 2004 to 2009, the years of change after a highly publicized 2001 fight that left Acosta’s Manatee High classmate James Brier dead and Acosta in prison.
“I believe the justice system works and when someone has been convicted of a crime and served their sentence, they have paid their debt to society,” said Scott Bassett, a former Hurricane SAC chairman who is also an adjunct professor at Stetson Law School.
Acosta, 27, was released from prison Sunday after serving about eight years of a roughly nine-year sentence.
A jury found Acosta guilty of manslaughter after the Oct. 18, 2001, fight where Brier suffered a broken artery on the back of his neck that led to his death.
“It may not be enough for the family of the victim of a horrible crime, but society has to take a larger perspective,” Bassett said. “We don’t serve anyone well if we stand too tightly in the shoes of the victim. We have to realize that people deserve a chance after rehabilitation.”
Acosta is nothing like the person many depict him to be, said Evelyn Treworgy, who got to know John Acosta when he came over to her house at age 10 and 11 to play with her children.
Treworgy is owner of Coastal Construction of Bradenton.
“John was a fun-loving, giving, caring, playful boy and a normal teenager who was raised right and was respectful,” Treworgy said. “There is a part of him that’s still a kid.”
Treworgy said the John Acosta she knows is far from a monster.
“My children looked up to John,” Treworgy said. “He has a heart of gold. He was a big kid, but he was a Teddy bear. What happened that day was a horrific, horrific tragedy. There is no excuse for violence. It’s never a way to solve anything. But sometimes children do stupid things. There are millions of school yard fights and this is never the result. It was a horrific accident, not malicious intent.”
Treworgy said she is not sure what Acosta plans to do now. “I don’t know where he will go from here,” Treworgy said. “I haven’t had a chance to speak to the family. The family needs a little time.”
The Acosta family is also not without deep feelings for the losses many have suffered, Treworgy said.
“Believe me, I know there aren’t words to explain how the Brier family feels,” Treworgy said. “It’s horrible for them. Their son is gone. Not to belittle their loss, because there is no comparison since John does have a life, but to find that one day your son has all the promise in the world and the next day to lose that bright, shining future for something not intentional is horrible, also.
“The Acostas felt the loss of the Brier boy along with the Brier family,” Treworgy added. “They live with that every day, also.”
For Dave Miner, a local attorney whose daughter, Sarah, was a classmate of Briers at Manatee High, both Acosta and Brier shouldn’t have been where they were that day.
“Kids need to have ways to express themselves more than getting into a fight,” Miner said. “That is where I am coming from. Mr. Acosta did a wrong thing. But Mr. Brier shouldn’t have been there either.”
Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 748-0411, ext. 6686.