Alex and Derek King, the teenage brothers whose tangled legal saga inspired candlelight vigils and a nationwide debate about trying juveniles as adults, pleaded guilty today in a Pensacola, Fla., courtroom to murdering their sleeping father.
The brothers, dressed in green jail jumpsuits, entered guilty pleas to third-degree murder and arson charges despite a failed, last-minute attempt by their estranged mother, Kelly Marino, to stop the proceedings by requesting a competency evaluation.
Derek King, 14, who admitted to swinging the aluminum baseball bat that killed his father, Terry King, was sentenced to eight years in an adult prison that specializes in programs for juveniles. Alex King, 13, who admitted suggesting that his brother commit murder, was sentenced to seven years in the same kind of prison.
Before today's court hearing, the case had already featured the unusual spectacle of two separate murder trials, each built on contradictory theories. In the first case, Ricky Chavis, a convicted child molester who had befriended the boys, was acquitted on a charge that he murdered Terry King. In the second trial, the King brothers were convicted of killing their father, exposing them to the possibility of life sentences. But the guilty verdicts were later overturned, leading to weeks of court-ordered mediation that ended with a plea deal late Wednesday night.
Before entering their pleas today, the brothers sat impassively as their attorneys spoke with Circuit Judge Frank Bell. When Bell asked the teens to rise and approach the bench, Alex King hesitated momentarily, sitting with hands knit, and rising only after his attorney, James Stokes, tapped him gently on the shoulder.
Bell had to ask Alex King to "speak up a little bit" in response to his first question about the plea. From then on, both brothers spoke clearly, answering questions for more than 20 minutes.
The brothers' pleas were supported by a detailed recounting of the crime, known as a factual basis, which alleged that Chavis, 41, guided them in the days before the murder and later helped them craft a coverup.
Chavis faces trial on charges of lewd and lascivious conduct.
The brothers' plea agreement, which was read aloud by Judge Bell, laid out a chilling sequence leading up to the murder of Terry King and the arson fire to cover up the crime: The brothers ran away from their father's home, hiding at Chavis's house, where the older man propositioned Derek King for sex and spent a "lot of time kissing" Alex King. Chavis let them smoke marijuana and skip school.
Chavis told the boys that their father was abusing them with intense stares and would kill them before letting them move into Chavis's house. Alex King later suggested that his brother kill their father.
After the killing, Chavis drove the boys to a field across the state line in Alabama to get out of their bloody clothes. Later, Chavis helped them rehearse how to lie to police by giving them a version of the night's events that did not implicate him.
The climax of the boys' case today was set against a backdrop of two anguished months. Soon after the brothers' original murder conviction, jurors in that case expressed shock that Chavis had been acquitted in the earlier trial and began to publicly question their guilty verdict. The jury forewoman even became a regular at Friday night candlelight vigils for the boys.
The national profile of the case ballooned further last month when comedian Rosie O'Donnell, an outspoken child advocate, hired two prominent criminal defense attorneys to help them.
Marino went to court today with the lawyers O'Donnell hired and later vowed to try to undo the pleas.