Advertisement
YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

The Nation

Teen Brothers Guilty of Beating Father to Death

Crime: In a separate trial, a neighbor they blamed in the murder is acquitted. In the unusual proceedings, prosecutor offered two scenarios of who did what.

September 07, 2002|JOHN J. GOLDMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

In highly unusual court proceedings, a jury in Pensacola, Fla., convicted two teenage brothers Friday in the baseball bat slaying of their sleeping father, while it was announced that another jury hearing the same murder case had acquitted a neighbor of the crime.

Jurors found Derek King, 14, and his brother Alex, 13, guilty of second-degree murder in the death of Terry King, 40, as he slept in a recliner Nov. 26. They also were convicted of setting fire to the house.

The brothers, who were tried as adults, showed no emotion when the verdict was read in court. But Ricky Chavis, the neighbor, wiped away tears when the court announced that the other jury had exonerated him.

Circuit Judge Frank Bell had sealed the verdict against Chavis, a convicted child molester who was tried last week. The judge decided not to reveal the decision until a second jury made up its mind in the case against the brothers, who face a sentence of 22 years to life in prison.

Prosecutors had argued different theories of the same crime at the trials.

Assistant State Atty. David Rimmer, who prosecuted both cases, had urged the brothers' jury to focus on the facts of the case and not on their angelic appearances.

"The boys testified under oath in front of a grand jury that Chavis did it," Rimmer told reporters outside the courthouse after both verdicts were announced. "It was up to a jury to decide whether they believed him or not. The jury didn't believe them."

The prosecutor said that Chavis never confessed to the killing, while the boys had, and that the case against Chavis reached the courtroom because the defendant had demanded a speedy trial.

Rimmer argued during Chavis' trial that the neighbor had beaten King to death with an aluminum bat while the brothers hid in Chavis' car. Both brothers also testified that Chavis had committed the crime.

But during the brothers' trial, the prosecutor pictured Chavis as motivating the teenagers to commit the murder, and told jurors that Derek swung the bat while Alex watched and encouraged his brother.

Rimmer said Derek talked of the plot two days before the killing. The prosecutor underscored the testimony of Nancy Lay, Derek's former foster mother. She testified that she was shocked when Derek said he and his brother were going to murder their father.

"We already have a plan," Lay said the older brother told her.

In his closing argument, the prosecutor also read a letter that the younger brother had written to his father, accusing him of mental abuse and referring to their home as a prison.

Rimmer cited the confession of the brothers to investigators, saying it contained details of the killing.

He told the jury both brothers were telling the truth in their initial confessions. Rimmer said that the statements contained details of the crime that only people at the scene would have known.

Defense lawyers charged that Chavis was obsessed with Alex and had convinced the brothers to accept the blame for the crime.

The lawyers said that Chavis had repeatedly changed his story during interviews with investigators and had admitted harboring the teenagers and washing their clothes, which were bloodstained after the killing.

Chavis still faces charges of evidence tampering and obstructing the investigation.

Legal experts expressed contradictory views of the case.

Christopher Slobogin, a law professor at the University of Florida, told Associated Press that, while it is rare to convene separate trials for the same crime based on differing prosecutorial theories, it does occur.

"It happens when the prosecution has probable cause that both sets of defendants are involved, but isn't positive which set of defendants is responsible and leaves it up to the juries to decide," Slobogin said.

Mark Seidenfeld, associate dean at Florida State University Law School, disagreed, saying prosecutors should have made up their minds about who they believed was guilty and tried only that case.

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|