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Jeffrey Toobin: Future of King murder case unclear

Jeffrey Toobin
Jeffrey Toobin

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(CNN) -- On Thursday, a Florida judge overturned the convictions of two teenage boys found guilty of beating their father to death with a baseball bat.

Circuit Judge Frank Bell granted a defense motion for a new trial for Alex and Derek King, ages 13 and 14, but also ordered the prosecution and defense to try to resolve the case without another trial. The ruling was just the latest twist in a case that has already tested legal precedent. CNN's legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin, discussed the ruling and the case with CNN anchor Carol Lin.

CAROL LIN: Jeffrey, what happened in court today?

JEFFREY TOOBIN: Hardly clear what the basis for the judge's ruling is, but the main point raised by the defense in their motion papers was the same thing that we've been talking about in this case since the beginning. The prosecution had two separate trials, two entirely separate and contradictory theories of what happened.

First, they charged Ricky Chavez, the (previously) convicted child molester, with the murder of his -- of the boys' father. He was acquitted. Then the two boys were convicted of the father's murder. Apparently, the judge found that it was simply wrong for the judge to -- for the prosecution to proceed under those two theories. That was, in any event, the basis of the defense motion.

LIN: That's right. So what's going to happen next? Is there going to be a new trial?

TOOBIN: That remains to be seen. We have to see exactly what the judge said. He usually, when there is a reversal, there is a new trial, although if the prosecution was wrong to bring the two cases, it may be simply that the whole case is thrown out, and it won't be allowed to be retried. But you know, we have to see the details before we determine that.

LIN: So, Jeffrey, this is not based on the evidence presented at these trials. This is based on how the case was handled initially, having two separate trials, two separate theories, as to who should be charged initially?

TOOBIN: Well, Carol, if the basis for the ruling is what the defense asked for, that's right. It's simply the bringing of contradictory theories is just simply untenable. It was certainly the most unusual part of this case.

LIN: Well, this was very shocking indeed today. I mean, is this unprecedented?

TOOBIN: What makes this very peculiar is that these arguments were already presented to the judge during the trial, and he rejected them. It would have been one thing for an appeals court to adopt these arguments, because, you know, they are -- the arguments -- make a certain amount of sense. But he himself had rejected them. So, it will be interesting to see what he thought was different now, several weeks after the trial, when he didn't feel this way when the trial itself took place.

LIN: So, are there negotiations, Jeffrey, going on behind the scenes at this point as to how to move this forward?

TOOBIN: I think it makes a lot of sense for this case to be resolved on some sort of plea bargain at this point, because it is true that the prosecution believes that these kids killed their father. I mean, there is no doubt that now is what their theory is.

But the case is now so bollixed up because of what the prosecution did, bringing these contradictory prosecutions, that perhaps there can be some sort of treatment of these kids as juveniles that ... basically gets everybody satisfied and gets the case out of the legal system once and for all.

LIN: Would this call for a change of venue? Or is that a consideration at this point?

TOOBIN: I don't think that's really the issue, because that tends to deal with pretrial publicity.

One of the key questions here is trying 13- and 14-year-olds as adults. That, of course, drew a lot of controversy, even though under Florida law it's been fairly well- established that kids that young could be tried as adults.

Perhaps one solution might be for both sides to agree that they be treated as juveniles, kept in the juvenile justice system, which would allow considerably more lenient treatment than the 20-30 year sentence they were likely facing if the conviction for second-degree murder held up.

LIN: That's right. The brothers were facing prison terms of anywhere from 20 years to life. So, in this particular case, what's going to happen next?

TOOBIN: Well, I think there will be certainly a period of negotiation, and when we see in the judge's order. Presumably he will say whether he ... set a new trial date or what procedural steps he took, he ordered to take place. But certainly, there will be negotiations between the defense and the prosecution to try to resolve the case in a way that it gets both sides relatively satisfied.

LIN: Right. And in the meantime, what happens with Ricky Chavez? He is free and clear, right?

TOOBIN: He is free and clear. I don't think anything can happen to him. He has been tried and acquitted of this murder under the double jeopardy clause to the Constitution. I don't think anything can be done to him. He is facing more abuse charges, which he will still have to face. And he is incarcerated at the moment.

But in terms of the murder, there is nothing that can be done as far as he's concerned. Double jeopardy bars that completely.

LIN: Because there is an allegation -- or I can't remember whether Ricky Chavez even admitted to having a sexual relationship with Alex.

TOOBIN: There was that, there was certainly that claim by Alex. And, remember, Ricky Chavez previously had been convicted of child molestation, gone to prison, served his sentence and been released.

LIN: And one of the theories was that Alex seduced Ricky Chavez into killing his father; that he was trying to convince prosecutors that it was Ricky Chavez who actually wielded the bat.

TOOBIN: Absolutely. That was one of the disputed issues in the trial was whether Alex convinced Ricky or Ricky convinced Alex. And the role of Ricky Chavez in the murder of the boys' father was, of course, one of the central disputed points in the trial.

LIN: And, of course, people who were watching the trial -- I mean, you cannot help but be struck when you look at these two little boys that they could even be accused of committing such a heinous crime.

TOOBIN: They were a very young-looking 13 and 14, and it certainly was very striking. And that, I think, is one reason why the case really caught on nationally, and why there has been, since their conviction, quite an outburst of support for them across the country, because so many people watched it on television.

LIN: That's right. And the prosecutors waging their own public relations battle during the trial, warning the jury, do not be fooled by the innocent, young looks of these two boys, whom they claim were cold-blooded killers.

TOOBIN: Indeed.

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