Florida man's defense: The brothers did it
(Court TV) -- Minutes after their father was beaten to death with an aluminum baseball bat, two Florida boys charged with the crime sat down to watch late-night television, testified the brother of a man now on trial for the killing.
The tumultuous night began, Michael Chavis testified Thursday, while he sat listening to the scratch and buzz of his police scanner in the early morning hours of November 26, 2001. A routine house fire call crackled over the scanner's speaker, and moments later, the phone rang. His brother, Ricky, the defendant in this Pensacola case, was sitting with him in the living room watching late night TV, and picked it up.
"What's wrong?" Ricky Chavis asked. He then slammed down the phone and stormed out of the house, Michael Chavis testified. It was 1:39 a.m.
Half an hour later, Ricky Chavis returned with Derek and Alex King in tow. The boys were carrying clothes, and Michael Chavis noted that Alex, 13, seemed stunned and was unable to speak. Chavis testified that Derek King, 14, asked his brother, "Do you want me to tell him what we did?" and Ricky Chavis assented.
Derek then began the gruesome tale of his father's murder.
"[Derek] said he killed his dad, and then he hit him over the head with a bat," Michael Chavis testified. "He said his brain was hanging out." Derek then described laying the bat on the bed and setting fire to the house, which led to the fire call Chavis heard earlier.
After the startling admission, "they just sat down and started watching TV," Chavis said. After 15 to 20 minutes, he saw the boys climb into the shower and his brother put their clothes into the washing machine. It was a fitful night for the witness, who said he slept uneasily knowing there was a killer in the house. "I didn't know if [Derek] was going to do it to us, too," he told the court.
Ricky Chavis, 40, is charged with murder and arson for the November 26, 2001, crime. He is also charged with child molestation for his relationship with the younger of the two brothers, Alex.
Michael Chavis' testimony came a day after the judge dealt a damaging blow to the prosecution's case. On Wednesday, Judge Frank Bell cleaved the defense's case in half by dismissing the charge that Chavis acted as a principal in the murder, or participated in the murder without actually committing it. The decision left Chavis open to conviction only if the jury finds that he swung the bat that crushed King's skull.
Michael Chavis' account of Derek's confession was echoed Thursday by at least three other defendants. Coupled with an admission by Terry Kilgore, the lead homicide detective on the case, that he had no evidence linking Ricky Chavis to the bludgeoning, the defense soundly answered the prosecution's remaining murder charge.
Until Wednesday, Alex and Derek had claimed that they murdered their father. But in a stunning reversal, they testified Tuesday that Chavis, 40, committed the crime and asked them to confess to protect him. The brothers are also charged in King's murder and will be tried separately, and as adults, next week. If found guilty, they will face a mandatory life prison sentence.
On Thursday, defense attorney Mike Rollo called a number of witnesses who backed up his claim that the King brothers masterminded and carried out the murder.
Three teenagers who spent time with the brothers in a detention facility after the murder testified that the boys made "jailhouse" confessions.
"They told me that they were in there for killing their dad," said Darrin Mathis, 16, who lived on the same floor as the boys. "[Derek] told me that he had hit his dad with a bat in his head ... because his dad was being mean to Alex. He said when he hit him the first time his eyes kind of flittered. When he swung the second time he demolished the lamp ... the third time it ... was like mashed potatoes."
Theresa Shumake, a friend of the boys' mother, Kelly Marino, testified that she was with Marino when Derek King admitted to the crime.
During the meeting, which took place after their fathers' funeral, Derek did not recognize his birth mother, who had given the boys up in 1993. But he quickly opened up. "He just started to cry, he was very emotional the whole time he was there," said Shumake. "At first he did not say, 'I killed my father.' He said, 'I wish I hadn't have done it.'"
The jury also heard from Derek's foster parents, Frank and Nancy Lay, who testified that the boy was a problem child. Derek's seven-year stint with the family began peacefully, testified Frank Lay, with both King and the family adjusting to the new member in the family. One of the first signs of trouble was King's preoccupation with fire.
"We forbid him from having any kind of matches or anything like that," Lay said. "I didn't feel safe with him around fire."
The family's apprehension was borne out when King refilled a kerosene container with gasoline. Lay might not have been alive to testify on Thursday, he noted, if he had ignited the gasoline.
Derek King was also a perpetual con man, Nancy Lay said. "He was just full of it all the time," she said. "He was always in and out of trouble. Probably just about every rule we put down he broke at one time or another."
Derek returned to live with his father on September 28, 2001, after Terry King refused to let the Lays send the boy off to military school. But on November 16, 2001, he ran away. When the Lays tracked him down, Derek told Nancy Lay not to send him back to his father. The boys were going to kill him, he said. "We already have a plan," he told her, according to Lay.
Prosecutor David Rimmer declined to cross-examine most of the defense witnesses Thursday. His closing lasted just five minutes. "We're here because the King boys lied," he told the jury. "They either lied to police or they lied to you."
Rollo made a more lengthy pitch. "What you're going to have to do is take the principal theory and put it where it belongs," said the lawyer, tearing a diagram of the theory from an easel Rimmer had set up, balling it up and discarding it in the court reporter's trash bin. "It doesn't matter now that the co-defendants ... may have committed the murder themselves. You have to determine whether he [Chavis] did it. Whether he actually wielded the bat."
The jury began deliberating Friday at 10 a.m. EDT. The verdict, when reached, will be sealed until a verdict is reached in the murder trial of the King brothers.
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