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Children who commit parricide, the killing of one or both parents, are usually plagued with mental and emotional turmoil or live in fear for their lives. Whether or not such mitigating factors were true in their case, the lives of brothers Alex, 12, and Derek King, 13, changed irrevocably on November 26, 2001 when they bludgeoned their father to death with a baseball bat and then lit the house on fire to cover up evidence of the murder.
Florida's Youngest Murder Suspects
On December 11, a grand jury indicted both boys for first-degree murder. The Kings were the youngest children in the state of Florida to be put on trial for the crime. Had they been found guilty, they would have faced mandatory life sentences.
After several long, convoluted trials-including a separate trial involving a family friend/child-molester who was accused as an accessory-the boys were convicted of third-degree murder and arson. Derek was sentenced to eight years and Alex was sentenced to seven years to be served in separate juvenile detention facilities.
The Scene of the Crime
On November 26, 2001, firefighters from Escambia County, Florida, raced through the quiet streets of Cantonment, a small community located about 10 miles north of Pensacola, in response to a house fire call. The homes on Muscogee Road were old and wood-framed, making them highly flammable.
The firefighters learned that one of the home's occupants, Terry King, was inside. They broke through the dead-bolted doors and went about dousing the fire and searching for survivors. They discovered 40-year-old Terry King seated on a couch but he was already dead.
Initially, it was believed that King succumbed to smoke inhalation and died in the fire. However, after a brief examination, it became clear that he'd likely died as the result of blunt force trauma. King had been repeatedly bashed in the head. His skull was cracked open and half of his face had been smashed in.
The Initial Investigation
By early morning, a team of homicide investigators was on the scene. Neighbors told Detective John Sanderson, who was assigned to the case, that King had two young sons, Alex and Derek. Alex had been living in the house with Terry since they'd moved in during the previous summer but Derek had been there for only a few weeks. Both boys were missing.
From early on in the investigation, the name Rick Chavis kept coming up. Sanderson was anxious to interview him to find out what his connection was with the King family. Through people who knew Terry, Sanderson got several red flags warning him about the 40-year-old Chavis' possible relationship with the King boys.
On November 27, a day after Terry died, the search for the two King boys came to an end when, as a "family friend," Chavis brought the boys to the police station. The brothers were interviewed separately but their stories about the circumstances surrounding the night Terry King was murdered were the same: They confessed to killing their father.
A Troubled Family History
Terry and Kelly Marino (formerly Janet French) met in 1985. The couple lived together for eight years and had two boys, Alex and Derek. Kelly later became pregnant by another man and had twin boys.
In 1994, Kelly, who had a history of drug addiction and was feeling overwhelmed by motherhood, left Terry and all four boys. Terry was unable to financially care for the children. The twins were adopted in 1995, while Derek and Alex were split up. Derek moved in with Pace High School principal Frank Lay and his family.
Over the course of the next few years, Derek became increasing disruptive and got involved in drugs, particularly sniffing lighter fluid. He also developed a fascination with fire. Fearing that Derek was a danger to their other children, the Lays eventually arranged for him to be returned to his father in Cantonment in September 2001.
Meanwhile, Alex had been sent to live with a foster family. However, that situation did not work out and he was returned to his father's care. According to their paternal grandmother, Alex seemed happy to be living with his dad-but when Derek moved back in, things changed.
Signs of Increasing Unrest at Home
The boys' mother described Terry as being strict, but very gentle, loving, and devoted to the boys. At trial, the jury learned that while Terry never physically abused his children, the boys may have felt threatened by what was described as their father's oppressive "stare downs."
Derek disliked living in a rural area and resented living by his father's rules. Terry also took Derek off Ritalin, the drug he'd been taking for years for the treatment of ADHD. While the move seemed to have a positive effect overall, there were times when he displayed a deep resentment toward his father.
Music was another trigger that set off Derek's rude and aggressive and side. In an attempt to be preemptive, Terry removed the stereo and the television from the house-but his actions only made things worse, fueling Derek's simmering frustration and rage. On November 16, 10 days before Terry was murdered, Derek and Alex ran away from home.
Family Friend/Child Molester Rick Chavis
Rick Chavis and Terry King had been friends for several years. Chavis had gotten to know Alex and Derek and would sometimes pick them up from school. The boys enjoyed hanging around Chavis' house because he let them watch television and play video games. In early November, however, Terry decided that Alex and Derek needed to stay away from Chavis. He felt that he and the boys were getting too close.
Police retrieved a recorded message on Chavis' phone from Alex who asked Chavis to tell their father that they were not ever coming home after they'd run away. When questioned, Chavis told investigators that he thought Terry was too strict and was mentally abusing the boys by staring at them for long periods of time.
He went on to say that if the boys had anything to do with their father's murder-which he thought they did-he would testify in court that they were being abused. He also revealed that he knew Alex did not like his father and wished someone would kill him, and recalled that Derek had made a comment that he wished his father was dead as well.
Contradictory Accounts Emerge
James Walker, Sr., the boys' step-grandfather, showed up at the King home in the early morning hours just after the fire had been extinguished. Walker told Detective Sanderson that Chavis had called him to tell him about the fire, and said Terry was dead and that the boys had run away again. Chavis also told Walker that firefighters allowed him inside Terry's house and that he'd seen the badly burned and unrecognizable body.
The first time Chavis was interviewed by Sanderson, the detective asked him if he'd been inside the house shortly after the fire. Chavis said he'd tried to get in, but that the firefighters wouldn't allow it (a direct contradiction of what he'd told Walker). When Sanderson asked Chavis if he knew where the boys were, he said he hadn't seen them since he'd dropped off Alex at the King home the day before Terry was murdered.
After the interview, investigators asked for permission to look around Chavis' house. They noticed a picture of Alex above Chavis' bed. A search of the King home turned up a journal in the attic belonging to Alex. In it were notes written about his "forever" love for Chavis. He wrote, "Before I met Rick I was straight (sic) but now I am gay." This sent up more red flags to the investigative team who began to delve more deeply into Chavis' background.
It turned out that Chavis' criminal record included a 1984 charge of lewd and lascivious assault on two 13-year-old boys to which he pled no contest. He was sentenced to six months in jail and five years probation. In 1986, his probation was revoked and he was sent to prison after being found guilty of burglary and petty theft. He was released after three years.
The Boys' Confession
When Chavis dropped the boys off at the police station, they confessed to murdering their father. Alex said it was his idea to kill their father and Derek who acted on it. According to Derek, he waited until his father was asleep, and then picked up an aluminum baseball bat and bashed Terry 10 times on the head and face. He recalled that the only sound Terry made was a gurgling sound, a death rattle. The boys then set fire to the house in an attempt to conceal the crime.
The boys said that the reason they had decided to kill their father was that they did not want to face being punished for running away. They did admit that while their dad never hit them, he would sometimes push them. The thing they feared most were the times that Terry allegedly made them sit in a room while he stared at them. The boys told investigators that they found his actions mentally abusive.
Both boys were charged with an open count of murder and placed in a juvenile detention center. A grand jury indicted them boys for first-degree murder. Since the law in Florida allowed them to be sentenced as adults, they were immediately sent to the adult county jail to await their trial. Meanwhile, Rick Chavis was being held in the same jail on a $50,000 bond.
Chavis is Arrested
Chavis had been called to testify during a closed-door grand jury proceeding regarding the boys' arrest. Chavis was accused of hiding Alex and Derek after they'd murdered their father. Immediately after his grand jury testimony, he was arrested and charged with being an accessory after the fact to murder.
It's believed that while Chavis was in jail, he tried to communicate with the boys by scratching a message in the cement in the recreation area. He was stopped by a guard before finishing. The sentence read, "Alex don't trust… " A similar message to Alex and Derek-reminding them of who not to trust and reassuring them that if nothing changed in their testimony everything would work out-was also found on the wall of a holding room at the courthouse where Chavis had been held.
Then, a few weeks later, a long note was found in Alex's trashcan cautioning him not to change his story and telling him that the investigators were playing mind games. He professed his love for Alex and said he would wait for him forever. Chavis denied responsibility for the messages.
In April 2002, the King boys changed their story. They testified in a closed-door grand jury proceeding with claims against Chavis. Immediately following their testimony, Rick Chavis was indicted on first-degree murder of Terry King, arson, and lewd and lascivious sexual battery of a child 12 or older and for tampering with evidence. Chavis pled not guilty to all charges.
The Trial of Rick Chavis
Chavis' trial for the murder of Terry King was slated before the boys' trial. It was decided that the verdict for Chavis would be sealed until after the verdict in the boys' case was reached. Only the judge and the lawyers would know if Chavis had been found innocent or guilty.
Both King boys testified at Chavis' trial. Alex revealed that Chavis had wanted the boys to live with him and said the only way that would happen was if Terry was dead. He testified that Chavis told the boys he'd be at their house at midnight and to leave the back door open. When Chavis showed up, he told the boys to go to his car, get into the trunk, and wait for him, which Alex said they did. Chavis went inside the house. When he came back, he drove Alex and Derek to his own house and confessed that he'd murdered Terry and set the house on fire.
Derek was more evasive during his testimony, saying that he couldn't remember several events. Both he and his brother said the reason they'd killed their father was to protect Chavis.
Frank and Nancy Lay testified that when they made the decision to stop fostering Derek and return him to his father, he pleaded with them not to go. He said Alex hated their father and wanted to see him dead. Nancy testified that before Derek moved to his father's house, he told her that a plan to murder Terry was already in the works.
It took the jury five hours to reach their verdict. It remained sealed.
The Trial of the King Brothers
Many of the witnesses at Chavis' trial testified at the King trial, including the Lays. When Alex testified in his own defense, he answered the questions the same way as he had during Chavis' trial, however, he did include more in-depth statements about his sexual relationship with Chavis and said that he wanted to be with him because he loved him. He also testified that it was Chavis, not Derek, who swung the bat that delivered the fatal blows.
Alex explained how he and Derek kept rehearsing the story that they were going to tell the police in order to protect Chavis. When asked why he'd changed his story, Alex admitted he did not want to go to jail for life.
After deliberating for two and a half days, the jury reached a verdict. They found Alex and Derek King guilty of second-degree murder without a weapon and guilty of arson. The boys were looking at sentences of 22 years to life for the murder and a 30-year sentence for arson. The judge then read Chavis' verdict. He had been acquitted on the charges of murder and arson.
Judge Throws Out Boys' Conviction
The fact that the prosecutors charged both Chavis and the King boys with the murder of Terry King proved problematic for the courts. Prosecutors presented conflicting evidence in the trials. As a result, the judge ordered that the defense lawyers and prosecutor enter into mediation to clear up the discrepancies. The judge cautioned that should they be unable to reach an agreement, the verdicts would be thrown out and the boys would be retried.
To add even more drama to the case, comedian Rosie O'Donnell, who like many around the nation had been following the case for months, hired two tough lawyers for the boys. However, because the case was being mediated, any involvement from new counsel appeared unlikely.
On November 14, 2002, almost a year to the date of the murder, a mediated agreement was reached. Alex and Derek pled guilty to third-degree murder and arson. The judge sentenced Derek to eight years and Alex to seven years in prison, plus credit for time served.
Chavis was found not guilty of sexually molesting Alex, but guilty of false imprisonment for which he received a five-year sentence. He was later found guilty of tampering with evidence and as an accessory after the fact to murder, for which he received a total of 35 years. His sentences ran concurrently. He will likely be released in 2028.
After serving their sentences, Alex and Derek King, now adults, were released in 2008 and 2009, respectively.