PENSACOLA, Fla. — Two teenage boys who bludgeoned their father to death with a baseball bat pleaded guilty Thursday to reduced charges and got up to eight years in prison after a judge threw out their convictions, sparing them a much harsher sentence.
In strong, clear voices, Derek King, 14, and his brother, Alex, 13, admitted to third-degree murder and arson; they burned down the house around their father's body last year.
Derek was sentenced to eight years in prison, Alex seven -- well below the 12 1/2-year minimum specified under state guidelines.
The case drew widespread attention in part because prosecutors presented evidence at one trial that an adult friend of the teens was the killer, but told another jury the boys did it.
A month ago, Circuit Judge Frank Bell tossed out the boys' second-degree murder convictions, saying the brothers' rights were violated by the "unusual and bizarre" way prosecutors simultaneously presented contradictory theories of the crime. He ordered both sides to try to resolve the case in mediation.
The brothers were facing prison terms of 20 years to life before the convictions were thrown out. They were tried as adults in the case.
The boys' mother, Kelly Marino -- who has not lived with them for several years -- made a last-ditch effort to have them examined by mental health experts before they pleaded guilty, but the judge said the request had no standing.
The boys told the judge that they understood what they were doing.
Outside court, Marino denounced the plea bargain and said her sons had no idea what they were admitting to. She was accompanied by lawyers hired by comedian Rosie O'Donnell to help with the case. Those attorneys did not participate in the mediation.
"This is not right. This is America. Unbelievable," Marino said, shaking her head in disbelief. "We do plan to challenge this."
Terry King, 40, was beaten with an aluminum bat as he slept in a recliner at his Cantonment home. The house was then torched to cover the crime.
The boys, who were 12 and 13 at the time, gave detailed confessions to police: Derek said he swung the bat and Alex said he had urged his brother to kill their father because they were afraid of being punished for running away from home.
The boys later recanted and pinned the slaying on Ricky Chavis, a 41-year-old convicted child molester and family friend.
Chavis was acquitted of first-degree murder but remains jailed on other charges of accessory after the fact to murder, evidence tampering and sexual molestation.
Jurors in the boys' trial said they believed Chavis wielded the bat. But they said they convicted the boys because they let Chavis into the house.
The case was the latest murder trial involving a child in Florida, which leads the nation in the prosecution of juveniles as adults.
Nathaniel Brazill was 13 when he shot his teacher to death two years ago. He was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to 28 years in prison.
Also that year, 15-year-old John Silva kidnapped and strangled a 12-year-old neighbor. He is serving life without parole.
Lionel Tate, 12, was sentenced to life without parole for fatally body-slamming a 6-year-old neighbor in 1999.
The mediator in the King case, Bill Eddins, said the brothers will serve their sentences with boys of the same age and will attend classes.
Eddins said a physician and a psychologist will be available for counseling at all times.