Pensacola, Fla. A judge Thursday threw out the convictions of two boys, ages 13 and 14, in the slaying of their father, who was bludgeoned with a baseball bat as he slept.
Circuit Judge Frank Bell said the boys' rights were violated by the "unusual and bizarre" way prosecutors simultaneously presented two contradictory theories of the crime.
Prosecutors won the conviction of Alex and Derek King last month by arguing that Derek swung the bat. But in a trial that ended a week earlier, they presented evidence that an adult friend of the boys committed the crime.
The judge said he would order a new trial for the boys, and in the meantime would encourage the prosecution and defense to work out a deal.
The brothers were facing prison terms of 20 years to life because they were tried as adults. They were convicted of second-degree murder without a weapon, as well as arson, for setting the house on fire to cover the crime.
"We're all ecstatic," said Linda Walker, the boys' maternal grandmother. "I saw Derek smile. I think they're happy about it. Now they know they've got hope."
The brothers' lawyers argued that prosecutor David Rimmer committed prosecutorial misconduct for pursuing the contradictory theories.
The boys' adult friend, convicted child molester Ricky Chavis, was acquitted, but the verdict was sealed until the boys' trial was over.
Jurors in the boys' trial said that they believed Chavis was the real killer and that the brothers had only helped him commit the crime.
Rimmer defended his handling of the two trials. He said he never actually argued Chavis was the killer, and instead left it to jurors to decide.
Alex was 12 and Derek 13 last November when their father was killed in nearby Cantonment. Terry King, 40, was clubbed in the head with an aluminum baseball bat as he dozed in a recliner.
Prosecutors said the boys did it because their father was too controlling and they wanted to live with Chavis, who let them smoke marijuana and stay up late watching television.
Before Thursday's hearing, jury forewoman Lynne Schwarz said at a courthouse rally that she never thought the verdict would result in prison time for the boys.