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Florida Boys' Trial Will Mirror Co-Defendant's Case

Aired September 4, 2002 - 11:08   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Daryn, we have this case in Florida, which is a bizarre case. You know about two young boys accused of killing their father. That is Alex King -- 13-year-old Alex King, one of the boys right there, charged with first-degree murder and arson. The trial is ongoing right now in Florida.
Testimony continues today. A family friend and a convicted child molester was actually tried last week for the exact same crime. That verdict was sealed until the boys' trial is over.

We're going to go to a story now by CNN's David Mattingly to bring you up to date.


DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): From the beginning it was a crime almost impossible to believe, two young brothers, 13-year-old Derek King and 12-year-old Alex in November confessing to murdering their father with a baseball bat, then setting their house on fire in Ascambia County, Florida.

DEREK KING: I was afraid that he might wake up and see us, so I just kept on hitting him.

ALEX KING: Made contact with the forehead, knocked a hole in the forehead. You could see his brains.

MATTINGLY: The boys claimed they killed 40-year-old Terry King a single father and strict disciplinarian fearing punishment after they had recently run away. Their casual, seemingly remorseless behavior at the time seemed unusual to investigators.

JOHN SANDERSON, POLICE INVESTIGATOR, ASCAMBIA COUNTY, FLA.: For the most part they were pretty calm and then after the interviews they were horsing around a little bit and playing.

MATTINGLY: But what investigators didn't know was that even stranger twists would follow. Months later before a Grand Jury, the boys changed their story and implicated 40-year-old Ricky Chavis, a convicted child molester and friend of the family. Chavis, according to prosecutors, was romantically obsessed with young Alex. Defense attorneys for the boys claimed Chavis gained their confidence and manipulated them, convincing them to run away and take the blame after he was the one who allegedly wielded the bat.

MIKE ROLLO, ATTORNEY FOR THE DEFENDANTS: Ricky told them that you are juveniles and you will remain juveniles and you will be tried as juveniles. And when they -- everything seems to go as planned until something happens that Ricky Chavis didn't think would happen. The State of Florida indicts a 12 and 13-year-old boy as adults.

MATTINGLY: But which story is true? Who sit he real killer when all now claim to be innocent? Prosecutors decided to present evidence against both the boys and Chavis, then let the jury sort it out.

On Friday, it took just seven hours to reach a verdict in the case against Chavis but that verdict has been sealed and will remain unknown until the outcome in the murder and arson trials of brothers Derek and Alex. The boys are being tried as adults. They were key witnesses against Chavis but Chavis will not testify against them.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you're called by the state to testify in this murder trial, do you intend to invoke your Fifth Amendment right to remain silent?


MATTINGLY: Deciding in court Tuesday to invoke the Fifth Amendment, Chavis will remain silent as a Florida jury looks into the faces of two young boys in search of a brutal killer.

David Mattingly CNN.


DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: We want you to know that trial is going on right now. We're having a little bit of audio trouble getting it in live, but we do have the pictures, which we'll refer to from time to time.

Defense attorneys told the jury today that the family friend you heard about in David Mattingly's piece just now made the boys confess -- that he made the boys confess.

Now, this is truly an unusual case. The prosecutor is trying two separate cases, accusing different defendants of the same crime.

Joining us with some perspective on the Florida murder case is our legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin, in our New York bureau.

Jeff, good morning.


KAGAN: This seems to me more of the work of a defense attorney, when you try to prove that somebody else did it, there is your burden proof, or at least enough doubt. And that's how you get somebody off of a case, it's not how you convict them.

TOOBIN: Daryn, I have to say, I have some real reservations about the prosecutorial ethics involved in what was done here. I mean, I used to be a prosecutor, and one of the things I was always taught, and I think most prosecutors are taught, is that you are not like a defense attorney. The defense attorney represents his client, whether you think they're guilty -- your client is guilty or innocent. It's your job to defend the client.

But prosecutors have a different obligation. You only bring a case if you truly believe that person is guilty. Here, if the prosecutors succeed in both of these cases, someone will be in jail for life who is clearly innocent, because both of these scenarios cannot be true. It can't be that Chavis killed the father, and it can't be that the two boys killed the father.

I think it's really a chilling possibility that the prosecution will win both of these cases.

KAGAN: Well, and not just someone, but, Jeff, to look at these pictures, it's more like a back-to-school story. These boys -- I mean, they don't look like cold-hearted murderers. I'm not saying they didn't do it. I don't know. But clearly, you have some kind of victim of child abuse as well that has gone on here, and it almost seems like prosecutors are just doing whatever they can to make something stick.

TOOBIN: Well, Daryn, the one thing I agree with you 100 percent is, I mean, you've got to look at those kids. It is just astonishing how young they are. They even look young for 13 and 14.

But, you know, it is not clear that there was child abuse here. I think that's one of the things in issue, and there is evidence against these kids. There is, for example, on their shoes, there was the paint thinner that was the accelerant on the fire. There is also an arson charge, because they burned -- someone burned down the house after King was killed.

But the thing that is so chilling about this is that the charge here carries a penalty of mandatory life without parole. So if you look at those baby-faced kids now, if they are convicted, they will both die of old age in prison. And you know, I don't -- I mean, I think sometimes the law allows for that, but for -- you know, within the same week, the prosecutor is saying, no, it wasn't them, it was another guy, I just think it's just not how these trials should be done.

KAGAN: And logistically, I mean, clearly, they are being tried as adults. That's why we are able to have cameras in the courtroom here. I understand, right now, they are being held -- having to be held in a separate part of the jail just to protect them from the general jail population. Where do you send a kid like this?

TOOBIN: Well, there are juvenile detention facilities, but you know, one of the trends in law recently has been a great reluctance on the part of prosecutors to try anybody as a juvenile anymore. That, you know, because of the seriousness of crimes that kids do commit, there is this tendency to want to try virtually all teenagers, or sometimes here you have even younger people, as adults. But you know, you're talking about the stakes here of 70, 80 years in prison for these kids for a crime that the prosecutors last week said someone else did.

KAGAN: Well, and on that note, and just this final legalese question here. The prosecutors are trying to do something to make something stick. But really, aren't they setting themselves up for failure? If you're the defense attorney in either of these cases, there is your natural point for an appeal. Of course, my client didn't do it, the guy across the street did it.

TOOBIN: Well, I'll tell you, you know, no one -- no defense lawyer wants to win on appeal. They don't want to be charged in the first place, and juries do unusual things.

Remember, it's separate juries here, so it's not like the same people are hearing the same evidence. And you know, you never know what a jury is going to do. You never know what an appeal's court is going to do. And also, the time for this to be resolved was before the charges were brought...


TOOBIN: ... or the trial judge was certainly someone who could have forced the prosecutors to pick one or the other. But it hasn't been done so far, and we don't know whether it's going to be done yet.

KAGAN: We will be watching it with your help out of Pensacola, Florida.

TOOBIN: Interesting case.

KAGAN: Jeffrey Toobin, thank you so much.

TOOBIN: Certainly.




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