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Trial of Florida Boys to be Mirror Image of Codefendant's Case

Three people have been charged in the slaying of Terry King: sons Alex and Derek King, now 13 and 14, and family friend Ricky Chavis. The boys now say Chavis did it; Chavis says the brothers killed their father.

Chavis was tried separately and the jury issued a verdict on his first-degree murder charges Friday. The verdict was sealed pending conclusion of the boys' trial, set to begin Tuesday. The trials involve all sorts of bizarre scenarios. Alex and Derek were the star witnesses against Chavis last week, but if they testify this week, it will be as defendants. Chavis could help the prosecution this week.

Such twists are certain to add drama to a murder trial that has drawn protests from opponents of prosecuting and sentencing children as adults.

Chavis' lawyer, Michael Rollo, acknowledged the delicate nature of the case in his closing arguments Friday.

"We don't like to say that children with cherubim faces can be cold, calculating, homicidal psychopaths," Rollo said.

But that didn't stop him from arguing that the boys, then 12 and 13, attacked their 40-year-old father while he slept Nov. 26 and set his house on fire.

All three defendants face life sentences without parole if convicted of first-degree murder. Chavis, one or both of the King brothers, or all three could be found guilty.

Chavis, a convicted child molester, was tried before a 12-member jury because he was eligible for capital punishment although the state did not seek the death penalty. The King brothers will be tried as adults before a six-member jury because they are too young for death sentences.

The most damaging evidence against the King brothers is the recorded confessions they gave to Escambia County sheriff's deputies a day after their father was killed.

"I made sure he was asleep," Derek told investigators. "I got the bat and I hit him over the head."

The victim's body was found in a recliner just where the boys said it had been inside the burning house in Cantonment, a blue-collar suburb north of Pensacola.

Alex told the deputies it was his idea to kill his father because the boys were afraid of being punished for running away from home. Derek said their father earlier had pushed Alex around and he started crying.

Both boys said in their statements that Chavis had nothing to do with the killing.

Alex described the murder in chilling detail. He told deputies he saw his father's brain through a hole in his head and heard "a sound like the person has a slightly stopped up nose" as he gasped his final breaths.

Rollo told jurors it was something the boys never could have made up.

"It's like a photograph of a crime scene," he said.

The brothers retracted their confessions more than four months later when they testified before a grand jury. Both stuck with that version when they testified against Chavis, saying he killed their father while they hid in the trunk of Chavis' car.

The boys said their confessions were lies. Alex said Chavis had told them they could take the blame and then get off by claiming self-defense.

The brothers hoped to live with Chavis, who had taken them in when they ran away from home 10 days before the murder. Alex testified he had loved Chavis and had sex with him.

The police confessions, however, are not the only evidence against the boys.

They also confessed to other witnesses, including their mother. Derek's former guardians also testified he told them two days before the murder that the boys wanted to kill their father and already had a plan.

Laboratory tests showed the boys had paint thinner on their shoes, a substance consistent with an accelerant used to start the fire, which melted the murder weapon.

Telephone records support Chavis' claim that the boys called him after the killing and asked him to pick them up. They show a call was made from a convenience store's pay phone to Chavis' home at the same time a neighbor made a 911 call to report the fire.

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