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Alex and Derek King

How did he know what you had planned? "It was too late to play baseball."

By

Alex King

Alex King

Mug Shot
On November 26, 2001, firefighters from Escambia County, Florida, raced through the quiet streets of Cantonment, a small community located about 10 miles north of Pensacola.

They were anxious to get to the address. A call had come in that there was a house fire and the firefighters knew that many of the homes on Muscogee Road were old and wood framed. They also learned that the occupant of the home, Terry King, was inside.

When they got to the house, they broke through the dead-bolted doors and went about the task of putting out the fire and looking for survivors.

In one of the rooms they discovered a man sitting on a couch, dead. The firefighters figured that he had been a victim of smoke or fire, but after a brief examination it was clear that he had likely died from injuries he suffered from being bludgeoned to death. His skull was cracked open and half of his face had been smashed in.

It was later determined that the victim was 40-year-old Terry King.

The Investigation

By early morning, a team of homicide investigators was on the scene. Detective John Sanderson was assigned to the case. Neighbors told Sanderson that King had two young sons, Alex, 12, and Derek, 13. Alex had been living in the house with Terry since they moved in during the previous summer and Derek had been there for only a few weeks. Now they were nowhere to be found.

Terry, Alex and Derek King

Terry and Kelly Marino (formerly Janet French) met in 1985 and lived together for eight years. They had two boys, Alex and Derek. Kelly became pregnant by another man and had twin boys. In 1994, overwhelmed by motherhood, Kelly left Alex and the four boys.

Terry could not financially provide and care for the children so he placed them in the Heritage Christian Academy. In 1995, the twins were adopted; Derek moved in with the principal at Pace High School, Frank Lay and his family; Alex was sent to a foster family.

Living in foster care did not work out for Alex and he returned to his father's house. Derek remained with the Lay family until September 25, 2001. The Lays could no longer handle Derek. He had become disruptive and got involved in drugs, particularly in sniffing lighter fluid. He also had a fascination with fire. The Lays were afraid that Derek would harm their other children so they arranged for him to return to his father in Cantonment.

According to Terry's mother, Alex seemed happy living with Terry, but when Derek moved in, things changed. Derek disliked living in a rural area and resented living under his father's rules. Terry also took Derek off Ritalin, which he had been taking for years for the treatment of ADHD. It seemed to have a positive effect on Derek, but there were times when he displayed a deep resentment towards his father.

Music also seemed to make Derek aggressive and rude. As a result, Terry removed the stereo and the television from the house. This fueled more anger in Derek and on November 16, 10 days before Terry was murdered, Derek and Alex ran away from home.

As to Terry's character as a father, Kelly Marino described him as being strict, but very gentle, loving and devoted to the boys.

The First Confession

On November 27, the search for the two King boys came to an end. A family friend, Rick Chavis, brought the boys to the police station. They were interviewed separately and their stories about what happened on the night Terry King was murdered were the same.

It was Alex's idea to kill their father and Derek acted on it. According to Derek, he waited until his father was asleep then picked up an aluminum baseball bat and bashed Terry 10 times on the head and face. The only sound Terry made was a gurgling sound, which the coroner referred to as a very distinctive sound called a death rattle. They then set fire to the house to try to conceal the crime.

The boys said that the reason they did it was because they did not want to face being punished for running away. They also said that their Dad never hit them, but would sometimes push them. But what they really did not like were the times that he would make them sit in a room while he stared at them. They told investigators that they found it mentally abusive.

Both boys were charged with an open count of murder and placed in a juvenile detention center.

Rick Chavis

Rick Chavis and Terry King were friends for several years. Chavis got to know Alex and Derek and would sometimes pick them up from school. The boys enjoyed hanging around Chavis' house because he would let them watch television and play video games.

In early November, Rick decided that Alex and Derek needed to stay away from Chavis. He felt that he was too close to the boys.

From the very beginning of the investigation, Chavis' name kept surfacing. Sanderson was anxious to talk to him and find out what he knew about the King family. Already, through people who knew Terry, Sanderson heard enough that sent warning signals about Chavis' relationship with the King boys.

  • When the boys ran away on November 16, Alex called Chavis and asked him to drive him back home.

  • James Walker, Sr., the boys' step-grandfather, showed up at the King home in the early morning hours, just after the fire had been extinguished. He told Sanderson that Chavis had called him and told him about the fire, about Terry being dead, and that the boys had run away again.

  • Chavis also said that the firefighters let him inside Terry's house and he saw his badly burned and unrecognizable body.

  • Chavis added that Terry was too strict and mentally abusing the boys by staring at them for long periods of time. He said if the boys had anything to do with their father's murder, which he thought they did, he would testify in court that they were being abused.
The first time that Chavis was interviewed by Sanderson, he was asked if he had been inside the house shortly after the fire. He said he tried, but the firefighters would did not allow it. This contradicted what he had told Walker.

He also said that he thought that the boys probably had something to do with the murder because he knew Alex did not like his father and wished someone would kill him. Derek also made the comment that he wished his father was dead.

Sanderson asked Chavis if he knew where the boys were and he said he had not see them since he dropped off Alex at the King home the day before Terry was murdered. After the interview the investigators asked to look around Chavis' house. They noticed a picture of Alex above Chavis' bed. A recorded message was also retrieved on his phone from Alex who asked Chavis to tell their father that they were not ever coming home.

The Letters

A search of Terry King's house turned up a journal in the attic belonging to Alex. In it were notes written about his "forever" love for Chavis.

He wrote, "Before I met Rick I was strate (sic) but now I am gay."

This sent up more red flags to the investigative team and they began looking deeper into the background of Rick Chavis.

Chavis' Criminal Record

A check into Chavis' criminal record included a 1984 charge of lewd and lascivious assault on two 13-year-old boys to which he plead no contest. He was given six months in jail and five years probation.

In 1986 his probation was revoked and he was sent to prison after being found guilty of burglary and petty theft. He was released after three years.

Chavis is Arrested

Chavis was called to testify during a closed-door grand jury proceeding regarding the boys' arrest. Immediately afterwards, he was arrested and charged with being an accessory after the fact to murder. He was accused of hiding Alex and Derek for two days after they murdered their father.

Florida and Children That Kill

On December 11, the grand jury indicted both boys on first-degree murder. They were the youngest children in the state of Florida to be accused of murder.

In Florida, when a grand jury hands down an indictment, the accused is sentenced as an adult, regardless of age. If found guilty both boys now faced mandatory life sentences.

They were immediately sent to the adult county jail to await their trial.

Rick Chavis was also being held in the same jail on a $50,000 bond.

It is believed that while in jail he tried to communicate with the boys by scratching a message in the cement in the jail recreation area. He was stopped by a guard before finishing. The sentence read, "Alex don't trust…"

There was also a message that appeared on the wall of the holding room at the courthouse where Chavis had been held. It was to Alex and Derek, reminding them of who not to trust and reassuring them that if nothing changed in their testimony everything would work out.

A few weeks later, a long note was found in Alex's trashcan cautioning him not to change his story and that the investigators were playing mind games. He professed his love for Alex, and said he would wait for him forever.

Chavis denied responsibility for the messages.

The Story Changes

In April 2002, the King boys testified in another closed-door grand jury proceeding. Immediately after their testimony, Rick Chavis was indicted on first-degree murder of Terry King, arson, and lewd and lascivious sexual battery of a child 12 or older and for tampering with evidence. Chavis pleaded not guilty to all charges.

First Up, Rick Chavis

It was decided that Chavis' murder trial would go before the boy's trial.

It was also decided that Chavis' verdict would be sealed until after the King's verdict was reached. Only the judge and the lawyers would know if Chavis was found innocent or guilty.

Both of the King boys testified at Chavis' trial. Alex said that Chavis wanted the boys to come live with him and the only way that would happen was if Terry was dead. He said that Chavis told the boys that he would be at their house at midnight and to leave the backdoor opened. When Chavis got inside the house he told the boys to go to his car, get into the trunk, and wait for him, which they did. Chavis returned the house, then came back and drove them to his house. He told them that he had murdered their father and set the house on fire.

Derek was more evasive during his testimony, saying that he couldn't remember several events. He and Alex both said that the reason they killed their father was to protect Chavis.

Frank and Nancy Lay testified that when they made the decision to return Derek to his father, he pleaded with them not to go. He said Alex hated their father and wanted to see him dead.

Nancy Lay testified that before Derek moved to his father's house, he told her that a plan to murder Terry was already in the works.

It took the jury five hours to reach their verdict.

The Trial of Alex and Derek King

Many of the witnesses at Chavis' trial testified at the Kings trial, including the Lays. When Alex testified in his own defense he answered the questions the same way as he had during Chavis' trial. He included more in-depth statements about his sexual relationship with Chavis and that he wanted to be with him because he loved him. He also testified that it was Chavis, not Derek that swung the bat.

Alex explained how he and Derek kept rehearsing the story that they were going to tell the police in order to protect Chavis. When asked why he changed his story, Alex said he did not want to go to jail for life.

The jury reached a verdict after deliberating for two and a half days. They found Alex and Derek King guilty of second-degree murder without a weapon and guilty of arson. The boys were looking at a sentence of 22 years to life for the murder and a 30-year sentence for arson.

The judge then read Chavis' verdict. He was acquitted on the murder and arson charges.

Judge Throws Out Boy's Conviction

The fact that the prosecutors had both Chavis and the King boys charged with the murder of Terry King proved problematic to the court system. Prosecutors presented conflicting evidence in both trials. As a result, the judge ordered that the lawyers and prosecutor mediate together in order to make sense of the case.

If they were unable to reach an agreement, the judge said the verdicts would be thrown out and the boys would be retried.

Rosie O'Donnell

To add even more drama to the case, comedian Rosie O'Donnell, who like many around the nation followed the case for months, hired two tough lawyers for the boys. However, because the case was being mediated, any involvement from other lawyers appeared unlikely.

Final Agreement and Sentencing

On November 14, 2002, almost a year to the date of the murder, an agreement was reached. Alex and Derek pleaded guilty to third-degree murder and arson.

The judge sentenced Derek to eight years and Alex to seven years in prison, plus credit for time served.

The boys were sent to different state prisons for juveniles.

Chavis' Remaining Trials

Chavis was found not guilty of sexually molesting Alex, but guilty of false imprisonment. He received a five-year sentence. He was later found guilty of tampering with evidence and as an accessory after the fact to murder, to which he received a total of 35 years. The sentences ran concurrently.

Back on the Streets

Alex King was released in April 2008 and Derek King was released in March 2009.

Rick Chavis will likely be released in 2028.

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