Boys to go on trial in father's killing

September 03, 2002|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

PENSACOLA, Fla. - In a courtroom here today, Judge Frank Bell will preside over a sensational murder trial: 14-year-old Derek King and his 13-year-old brother, Alex, will face first-degree murder charges in the grisly killing of their father late last year.

It is a killing that Bell, of Escambia Circuit Court, has already learned a lot about.

He just finished presiding over another first-degree murder trial involving the same victim but a different defendant. The testimony of the two boys was the key evidence in the trial that just ended.

And though the jury rendered its verdict Friday in the trial of Rick Chavis, a 40-year-old local handyman and former King family friend, it was sealed.

"Is it possible for two different juries to find both of them guilty?" Bell said of the two sets of defendants.

"Yes. Is it possible for two different juries to find both of them not guilty? Yes. Unusual, very unusual."

The case is one that has riveted people here since the two boys, then 13 and 12, were arrested on charges of bashing the head of their sleeping father, Terry Lee King, and then setting their house on fire to cover up the killing.

Relatives and neighbors said that King, who was raising the boys alone, was a strict disciplinarian but that they had seen no signs of physical abuse.

Still, it appeared to many to be an open-and-shut case because Derek admitted to investigators in a taped confession that he wielded the bat that killed the father, and Alex confessed to coming up with the idea.

But matters became murkier in the spring when a grand jury in Escambia County indicted Chavis in the same killing. The boys had changed their story and said that Chavis killed their father and got them to take the blame.

Prosecutors now say Chavis was romantically obsessed with Alex. They have also charged Chavis with sexual misconduct against a child.

The brothers, who are being tried as adults, and Chavis are each charged with first-degree murder. If convicted, they will receive mandatory sentences of life in prison without parole.

The brothers, who are being held in a county jail area separate from adult inmates, are also charged with arson, a felony punishable by 30 years in prison.

Trying Chavis and the boys requires the prosecutors to present two theories in two trials.

In the Chavis case, they said he swung the aluminum bat that killed King. In the other case they say the boys killed their father, who was 40 and worked for a Pensacola print shop.

Even David Rimmer, the assistant state attorney prosecuting both cases, conceded in a courtroom conference out of the jury's presence that the Chavis case "is not my strongest case."

The jury heard closing arguments in Chavis' trial Thursday and reached a verdict Friday after about seven hours of deliberations. But Chavis will not know his fate for some time because the verdict will remain sealed until the King brothers' trial concludes.

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