Boys plead guilty to third-degree murder in father's death
PENSACOLA -- Two teenage brothers pleaded guilty Thursday to reduced charges in the baseball-bat slaying of their father, ending an unusual case in which the boys and a family friend were tried for the crime before separate juries.
Derek King, 14, and Alex King, 13, admitted to third-degree murder and arson charges after the judge threw out second-degree murder convictions and ordered the case into mediation.
Derek was sentenced to eight years in prison and his brother received seven years, each with credit for nearly a year already served. Sentencing guidelines provided for a term ranging from 12.5 years to 45 years in prison.
Circuit Judge Frank Bell read new sworn statements from both boys, similar to confessions they gave police but later recanted.
"Alex suggested that I kill dad," Derek said in his statement. "I murdered my dad with an aluminum baseball bat. I set the house on fire from my dad's bedroom."
Alex wrote out his statement, saying he talked with his brother about killing their father, Terry King, 40, so they could live with the family friend, Rick Chavis, a convicted child molester.
"Rik told me he loved me," Alex wrote. "Rik told me I was gay & only he understood me."
Both boys entered their pleas in clear, strong voices and told the judge they understood what they were doing. Their mother, Kelly Marino, made a last-ditch request to have the boys examined by mental health experts, but the judge said the request had no standing.
"They're 13 and 14 years old," Marino said after the hearing. "They're not able to make this judgment for the rest of their lives, and none of us were allowed to have a say in that."
Marino said she would challenge the plea deals.
Assistant State Attorney David Rimmer said he was confident the settlement would be upheld. He was dismissive of Marino's complaint that she was not allowed to participate in the mediation.
"They wouldn't be going to the state pen if she would have paid more attention to them in their play pens," Rimmer said.
Marino never married Terry King and the boys were left with their dad to raise when young.
The brothers spent about a year in a group home for troubled children. Derek then was placed with a foster family for about six years, reunited with his father and brother only a couple months before the murder.
The case drew widespread attention in part because prosecutors presented evidence at one trial that Chavis was the killer and argued before another jury that the boys did it. Neither jury knew about the other.
Chavis was acquitted. The boys were convicted.
Bell took the unusual step of ordering mediation after throwing out the murder convictions in part because of the contradictory trials. He said he would have ordered a retrial had mediation failed.
The boys were convicted of killing their father as he slept in a recliner at his home in nearby Cantonment.
The brothers' jurors later said they believed that Chavis, 41, wielded the bat. They said they still found the King boys guilty of second-degree murder without a weapon because they admitted letting Chavis into the house.
A separate jury had earlier acquitted Chavis of murder. He remains jailed awaiting trial on other charges of accessory after the fact to murder, evidence tampering and sexually molesting Alex.
All three had been indicted for first-degree murder and had faced automatic sentences of life without parole if convicted of that charge.
Rimmer had argued that the boys, who were 12 and 13 when the crime was committed, were guilty of murder based largely on detailed confessions they gave police. The boys later recanted and pinned the slaying on Chavis.
In his new statement, Derek said Chavis had encouraged the boys to run away from home, which they did 10 days before the murder. They went to Chavis' home in Pensacola where he let them skip school, smoke marijuana and hid them when their father came by, Derek said.
Two Miami lawyers hired by comedian Rosie O'Donnell after the trial tried presented Marino's request for competency examinations, but Bell ruled it was a nullity because they were not attorneys of record.
Marino and her mother, Linda Walker, both later said they still believe the boys are innocent, but Walker said the settlement was probably the best outcome they could have received.
"They are still in the adult system, but they are not with these older men that are going to use them," Walker said.
Mediator Bill Eddins said a key factor in reaching the settlement was an assurance by state prison officials that the boys would be placed with inmates their own age also convicted as adults. He said they would receive schooling and counseling, if needed, and be able to participate in recreational activities.
The case has become a national rallying point for child advocates who oppose prosecuting juveniles as adults. It is the latest in a series of high-profile murder trials of children in Florida, which leads the nation in the prosecution of juveniles as adults.
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From the Times state desk
From the state wire