PENSACOLA, Fla. -- A jury convicted 13- and 14-year-old brothers Friday of murdering their sleeping father with a baseball bat and then setting fire to their home in hopes of covering up the crime.
A short time later, a second jury in the unusual case acquitted a 40-year-old family friend,Ricky Chavis, of the slaying. Prosecutors had argued at his trial that he wielded the bat, then argued at the boys' trial that they struck the fatal blows to escape their controlling father.
The judge initially sealed the Chavis verdict, reached last week, but he later disclosed the acquittal to the prosecutor and defense lawyers and ordered them not to divulge it pending the outcome of the boys' trial.
According to a transcript released Friday after the verdicts were read, Judge Frank Bell said he was concerned about having to impose mandatory life terms on Chavis and the brothers when "in my mind, I know that one of them is not guilty." The transcript was from a closed door meeting with the attorneys last month.
As the verdict was read in court Friday, the older brother, Derek King, bowed his head while Alex King wiped away tears as his attorney draped an arm around his shoulders. Their mother, Kelly Marino, wept softly in the courtroom gallery behind them. She had moved to Lexington, Ky., about three years before the killing.
The boys' attorneys said they would appeal but declined further comment. Their relatives said they were distraught.
"Alex was devastated and so was Derek," said Greg King, their uncle and the victim's brother. He said he believed the boys were innocent.
22 years to life
The boys were tried as adults on charges of first-degree murder. The jury, however, convicted them of second-degree murder, which carries a penalty of 22 years to life in prison with the possibility of parole.
The boys were also convicted of arson for setting fire to the home after bludgeoning Terry King, 40. Sentencing was set for Oct. 17.
The family friend, Ricky Chavis, was acquitted of first-degree murder and arson after a trial in which the boys' taped confessions to sheriff's deputies were played for jurors.
The crime, the ages of the two boys and the odd prosecution strategy riveted much of Florida.
Legal experts had questioned the decision to try the boys and Chavis before separate juries for the same crime, and Prosecutor David Rimmer had conceded his case against Chavis was weak. But Rimmer said he felt he had no choice but to prosecute Chavis and went ahead after consulting his boss.
"If I had not brought first-degree murder charges against Chavis ... what do you think people would be saying now?" Rimmer said Friday.
Rimmer argued the boys wanted to leave their father and live with Chavis, a convicted child molester who allowed them to play video games, stay up late watching television and smoke marijuana when they went to his house after running away 10 days before the killing.