Children Who Kill: Alex and Derek King

Two Teenage Boys Guilty in Bludgeoning Death of Their Dad

A kid in handcuffs
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The lives of two teenagers, 12-year-old Alex King, and 13-year-old Derek King, suddenly changed forever on November 26, 2001, when they bludgeoned their father to death with a baseball bat, then lit the house on fire to cover up the murder.

Children who commit parricide, the killing of one or both parents, are usually plagued with mental and emotional turmoil or a fear for their life. December 11, the grand jury indicted both boys for first-degree murder. They were the youngest children in the state of Florida to be accused of murder. If they had been found guilty, both boys would have faced mandatory life sentences.

After a couple convoluted, drawn-out trials, including a separate trial involving a child-molester family friend as an accessory, the boys were convicted of third-degree murder and arson. Derek was sentenced to eight years and Alex was sentenced to seven years in two separate juvenile detention facilities.

The two boys are now adults who have since served their sentences, released in 2008 and 2009. Learn more about what led these boys to kill their father and the adult man who was inextricably linked to the case.

The Scene of the Crime

On November 26, firefighters from Escambia County, Florida, raced through the quiet streets of Cantonment, a small community located about 10 miles north of Pensacola, to respond to a house fire call. The homes on Muscogee Road were old and wood-framed. They also learned that the occupant of the home, Terry King, was inside.

When the firefighters 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 40-year-old Terry King 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 repeatedly being bashed in the head. His skull was cracked open and half of his face had been smashed in.

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 and Derek. 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. Both boys were now missing.

From the very beginning of the investigation, the name Rick Chavis kept surfacing. Sanderson was anxious to talk to him and find out what he knew about the King family. Through people who knew Terry, Sanderson heard things that sent warning signals about 40-year-old Chavis' relationship with the King boys.

On November 27, a day after the killing of the Terry, the search for the two King boys came to an end. "Family friend" 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: They had killed their father.

What Was The Story of This Family?

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, who had a history of drug abuse, left Terry and all four male children.

Terry could not financially provide and care for the children. In 1995, the twins were adopted. And, Derek and Alex were split up. Derek moved in with the principal at Pace High School, Frank Lay, and his family. He remained with the Lay family until September 2001. Derek had become disruptive and got involved in drugs, particularly 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.

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. According to Terry's mother, Alex seemed happy living with Terry, but when Derek moved back 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, Alex and Derek's mother described him as being strict, but very gentle, loving, and devoted to the boys.

As the story unfolds at trial, the jury began to learn that Terry never physically abused his children but that the children may have felt threatened by their father's looming "stare downs." 

Enter Rick Chavis, Convicted Child Molester

Rick Chavis and Terry King had been 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, Terry decided that Alex and Derek needed to stay away from Chavis. He felt that he was too close to the boys.

However, when the boys ran away from Terry's home on November 16, Alex had called Chavis to drive them back home. Police had retrieved a recorded message on Chavis' phone from Alex who asked Chavis to tell their father that they were not ever coming home.

When questioned by police, Chavis said 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. He also said that 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.

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.

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 not allow it. This contradicted what he had told Walker.

Sanderson asked Chavis if he knew where the boys were and he said he had not seen 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 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 straight (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.

A check into Chavis' criminal record included a 1984 charge of lewd and lascivious assault on two 13-year-old boys to which he pled 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.

The Boys' Confession

When Chavis dropped off the boys at the police station, the boys confessed to murdering their father. It was Alex who had the idea to kill their father and Derek who 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, 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 that 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.

When the grand jury indicted the boys on first-degree murder, the law in Florida states that the accused be sentenced as adults. 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.

Chavis is Arrested

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

It is believed that while Chavis was 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.

In April 2002, the King boys changed their story. They testified in a closed-door grand jury proceeding with claims against Chavis. Immediately following 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.

The Trial of Rick Chavis

Chavis' trial for the murder of Terry King was slated to go before the boy's trial. It was decided that Chavis' verdict would be sealed until after the boys' verdict was reached. Only the judge and the lawyers would know if Chavis was found innocent or guilty.

Both 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 back door open. 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 to the house, then came back to the car, and then 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 stop fostering Derek and return him to his father, he pleaded with them not to go. He said Alex hated their father and wanted to see him dead. Nancy 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. It remained sealed.

The Trial of the King Brothers

Many of the witnesses at Chavis' trial testified at the King 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.

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.

On November 14, 2002, almost a year to the date of the murder, a mediated 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.

Chavis Sentencing

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 an accessory after the fact to murder, to which he received a total of 35 years. His sentences ran concurrently. Chavis will likely be released in 2028.