Pensacola, Fla. Jurors who tried two baby-faced boys on charges of killing their father with a baseball bat were aghast to learn that another panel had acquitted an adult accused in the case. But their conclusion that the boys only helped and didn't swing the bat stunned the prosecutor who presented both cases.
Alex and Derek King, ages 13 and 14, were spared a life term when a jury found them guilty Friday of second-degree murder without a weapon.
The boys face 22 years to life without parole, but the judge is free to go below the minimum when they are sentenced Oct. 17. If they had been convicted of first-degree murder as charged, their only option was life sentences without parole.
In a separate trial, convicted child molester Ricky Chavis, 40, was accused of committing the crime by himself. He was acquitted and the verdict was sealed until after the boys' trial.
Assistant State Atty. David Rimmer, who prosecuted both trials, said he thought the panel in the boys' case had ignored the allegation they wielded the bat and simply gave the boys a "jury pardon" by convicting them of the lesser offense.
The jurors "know good and well he was killed with a weapon," Rimmer said. "That's a jury pardon. That's OK, I don't have a problem with that."
The jury forewoman said that wasn't the case, that the panel believed neither boy swung the bat but rather that Chavis carried out the slaying. The jurors did not know that Chavis already had been acquitted in his separate trial.
Their decision to convict the boys of second-degree murder was based on their belief that Alex and Derek opened the door to let the killer into the house, forewoman Lynn Schwarz said.
That reasoning stunned Rimmer.
"I didn't think that at all," Rimmer said.
Rimmer had avoided asking the Chavis jury for a conviction, saying the only reason the case came to trial was that the boys had lied, either when they told police they killed their father or to the jurors when they said Chavis did.
He said it was up to the Chavis jury to decide which was the lie.
Of the jurors' reasoning in the boys' trial, he said: "I thought perhaps he encouraged them to do it, but I never felt Chavis was there."