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Teen Brothers Strike Plea in Fla.

November 14, 2002

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PENSACOLA, Fla. (AP) _ Two teen-age 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.

Both boys entered their pleas in clear, strong voices and told the judge they understood what they were doing. Their mother made a last-ditch request to have the boys examined by mental health experts, but the judge said the request had no standing.

The case drew widespread attention in part because prosecutors presented evidence at one trial that Ricky Chavis, a convicted child molester and family friend, was the killer and argued before another jury that the boys did it. Chavis was acquitted, but the boys were convicted.

Circuit Judge Frank 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 Terry King, 40, who was bludgeoned to death with an aluminum baseball bat as he slept in a recliner at his home in nearby Cantonment. The house was then set on fire.

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.

Prosecutor David 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. Derek told police he swung the bat while 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 Chavis.

The King boys’ mother, Kelly Marino, declined comment after the plea deal was announced. She was with two Miami lawyers hired by comedian Rosie O’Donnell that she wanted to represent the boys.

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.

Nathaniel Brazill was 13 when he fatally shot Lake Worth teacher Barry Grunow two years ago. He was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to 28 years in prison.

Also that year, John Silva was 15 when he kidnapped and strangled 12-year-old neighbor Jerry Lee Alleys Jr. He is serving life without parole for first-degree murder. Lionel Tate, then 12, was sentenced to life without parole for fatally body-slamming 6-year-old Tiffany Eunick in 1999.

The Florida Legislature has refused to change laws allowing only juvenile or adult penalties for young killers. Critics say that leads to penalties that are too soft or too harsh. Many states provide for mixed juvenile and adult sentences.

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