Split verdicts in Florida murder case
Teen brothers convicted; family friend acquitted
Defendants Alex King, 13, front, and his brother Derek King, 14, enter the courtroom Friday.
MSNBC NEWS SERVICES
PENSACOLA, Fla., Sept. 6 — A convicted child molester was acquitted Friday of the murder of the father of two teenage brothers convicted of the same crime earlier in the day. The acquittal of Rick Chavis was the capstone of a bizarre case in which Chavis was tried for the same crime under a completely different prosecution theory. Hours before the Chavis verdict, Alex and Derek King were found guilty of second-degree murder and arson in the Nov. 26 death of Terry King.
The King brothers had been charged with first-degree murder for last fall’s slaying of Terry King, but the jury returned convictions on the less-serious charge of second-degree murder.
THE KING BROTHERS — Alex, 13, and Derek, 14 — were found guilty of second-degree murder in the death of their father, who was beaten to death with a baseball bat. The boys face penalties up to life without parole. They will be sentenced Oct. 17.
The Escambia County Circuit Court jury in the teenagers’ trial began deliberations Friday morning and returned with a verdict in mid-afternoon, a speedy decision that surprised court observers.
The King brothers had been charged with first-degree murder for last fall’s slaying, but the jury returned convictions on the less-serious charge.
The older boy, Derek, bowed his head as he listened to the verdict, while Alex 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 their father.
Chavis, 40, had been tried earlier for the murder, with prosecutors arguing that he, not the boys, wielded the bat that killed King. The verdict in his trial was reached Aug. 30 and sealed pending the outcome of the brothers’ trial.
Despite his acquittal in the murder case, Chavis is to remain in jail and is scheduled for trial next month on charges of lewd and lascivious acts with a child younger than 16.
Firefighters found the body of Terry King, 40, on a recliner inside his burning home in Cantonment, a small town just north of Pensacola in the Florida Panhandle. The father was reported by relatives and neighbors to have been a strict disciplinarian. He was beaten to death while he slept.
The boys confessed to police a day after the slaying but later recanted, saying Chavis was the killer.
Prosecutor David Rimmer argued that the boys were telling the truth the first time and that their confessions are filled with the kind of detail only someone who was there would have known.
Defense lawyers contended the boys confessed to protect Chavis and parroted what he had coached them to say. That included such gory details as being able to see the victim’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.”
As they awaited the verdict, the boys sat at different tables with their lawyers. Derek rocked slightly in his chair and stifled yawns, while Alex chatted with his attorney.
A CHANGE OF STORY
The boys changed their stories more than four months after the murder, telling a grand jury that Chavis killed Terry King while the brothers hid in the trunk of Chavis’ car. The grand jury then indicted Chavis.
Rimmer argued Derek swung the bat while Alex urged him to commit the killing, just as the brothers had originally confessed. He said the boys wanted to escape a controlling father and live with Chavis, who allowed the boys 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.
He also pointed to Alex’s affection for Chavis, reading from several love letters Alex had written, including one that ended, “Before I met Rick I was straight, but now I am gay.”
Soft-spoken Alex took the stand to testify that the boys took the blame because they wanted to live with Chavis, and that he had told them they would be exonerated by claiming self-defense because they are juveniles.
The defense also argued that Chavis wanted to keep Terry King from finding out he was having sex with Alex.
TRIAL CONCLUDES SWIFTLY
The boys’ trial lasted barely three days as defense lawyers offered only a handful of witnesses, including their maternal grandmother, Linda Walker, and their father’s brother, Greg King.
Walker supported the brothers’ argument that Chavis was the killer by saying he had accused Terry King of mistreating his sons and had told her that he would do something and that no one would know he was responsible.
Greg King said he discovered in a visit to the burned-out home that the recliner his brother died in had not been taken into evidence.
Escambia County sheriff’s investigator Glenn Gowitzke testified that he found no evidence of a baseball bat in the fire, casting doubt on the boys’ confessions because they had claimed to put the bat on a bed and set it on fire. Gowitzke said a glob of melted aluminum he found was of a quality consistent with window frames rather than a bat.
He also testified to finding child pornography on Chavis’ computer.
Robin Barvorines, a guard at the county jail where all three defendants have been held, testified that she caught Chavis scratching a message on the floor of a recreation yard saying “Alex don’t trust,” but she stopped him before he could write anything more.
‘There are really no winners when this kind of thing happens. But the jury did the right thing, and I’m proud of them.’
— DAVID RIMMER
Prosecutor The prosecution strategy has drawn fire from those familiar with the law. Christopher Slobogin, a University of Florida law professor, 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 Friday.
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.
But prosecutor Rimmer expressed satisfaction with the findings of both juries. “It’s certainly sad, its unfortunate,” he said after the second verdict. “There are really no winners when this kind of thing happens. But the jury did the right thing, and I’m proud of them. ... I deeply respect that verdict.”
There ya go lazy oh lazy one.