Two Florida Brothers Convicted Of Killing Father With Bat; Adult Friend Acquitted

Published: Sep. 6, 2002 at 10:38 PM EDT|Updated: Sep. 13, 2002 at 1:17 PM EDT
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(PENSACOLA, Fla., September 6th, 2002, 6:30 p.m.) -- A jury convicted 13- and 14-year-old brothers Friday of murdering their sleeping father with a baseball bat in an unusual case in which an adult friend was acquitted of the crime under a completely different prosecution theory.

The older brother, Derek King, bowed his head as the verdict was read, while Alex King wiped away tears as his attorney draped an arm around his shoulders. Their mother wept softly in the courtroom gallery behind them.

The boys, who were tried as adults, each face 22 years to life in prison on the second-degree murder charge alone. They were also convicted of arson for trying to burn down their home around the battered body of Terry King, 40.

A short time later, a separate jury announced that a family friend, Ricky Chavis, had been acquitted of first-degree murder and arson during a trial last month. The verdict was reached last week and sealed pending the outcome of the boys' trial.

The boys' taped confessions to sheriff's deputies were played for jurors during Chavis' trial.

The brutal crime, the ages of the two boys and the odd prosecution strategy had riveted much of Florida.

Prosecutors admitted in court that their case against Chavis was weak, and some legal experts questioned the decision to try both the boys and Chavis on first-degree murder charges for the same crime. Prosecutors argued in one trial that Chavis wielded the bat; they argued at the other trial that the boys who did it.

Prosecutors said the boys wanted to escape their controlling father and live with Chavis, a 40-year-old convicted child molester who allowed them to play video games, stay up late watching television and smoke marijuana when they went to his house after running away from home 10 days before the killing.

The boys confessed the day after the Nov. 26 slaying, but recanted months later and pinned the crime on Chavis. Soft-spoken Alex said the boys initially took the blame because they wanted to live with Chavis and he had told them they would be exonerated
because they are juveniles.

Defense lawyers said the boys confessed to protect Chavis and were coached by him on what to say. That included such gory details as being able to see their father's brain through a hole in his head and the raspy sound of his last gasps.

"Everyone in this courtroom can repeat those details," said James Stokes, Alex's lawyer. "The boys' stories line up because the boys' stories are rehearsed."

The boys' attorneys also argued that Chavis had motive because he wanted to keep Terry King from finding out he was having sex with Alex.

Prosecutor David Rimmer said that the boys were telling the truth the first time, and that their confessions included details only the killer would have known.

The boys sat at different tables with their lawyers as they awaited the verdict. Derek rocked slightly in his chair and stifled yawns, while Alex chatted with his attorney.

After the verdict, both sat in silence, with Alex struggling to hold back tears.

At Chavis' trial, prosecutors put the boys on the witness stand, where they said they hid in the trunk of his car while Chavis killed their father. The house was set on fire. The boys were 12 and 13 at the time.

Rimmer, however, avoided asking the Chavis jury for a conviction, saying the only reason the case came to trial was that the boys had lied -- either when they told authorities they killed their father or to jurors when they said Chavis did.

He said it was up to the jury to decide, adding: "I don't have a dog in this fight."

At the boys' trial, however, prosecutors said it was Derek who swung the bat while Alex urged him on.

Defense lawyers asked Judge Frank Bell to acquit the boys because of the competing theories of the crime, but the judge refused.

Christopher Slobogin, a University of Florida law professor, and Mark Seidenfeld, associate dean at Florida State University's law school, said prosecutors should have decided who they thought was guilty and taken that case to trial.

"It's on the verge of being unethical that they would pursue contradictory theories when they are relatively sure that the evidence points to one as opposed to another defendant," Slobogin said.

But Slobogin also said there would have been nothing unconstitutional about having contradictory verdicts, and they could have been upheld on appeal.

"We've got two validly selected juries, and we have two trials that were conducted according to legitimate procedures, and we have two juries finding beyond a reasonable doubt about the guilt of the defendants," he said.

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)