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Florida prosecutor argues opposing theories of a father's murder

By John Springer
Court TV

(Court TV) -- David Rimmer is living a paradox.

Last week, the Florida prosecutor tried to prove that a 40-year-old convicted pedophile named Ricky Marvin Chavis beat Terry King to death with an aluminum baseball bat and then set King's Pensacola-area home ablaze to conceal the crime.

On Tuesday, however, Rimmer argued that King's 14-year-old son, Derek, wielded the bat and that 13-year-old Alex King, who was allegedly being abused by Chavis, set the whole thing up.

Despite the apparent contradiction, Rimmer isn't jeopardizing his case against Chavis. The Chavis jury deliberated four hours Friday before reaching a verdict that will remain under wraps for the time being.

Judge Frank Bell sealed the verdict in the Chavis case until the jury hearing evidence against the King boys reaches a verdict that could either free the teenagers, or send them to prison for life.

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And there was a new plot twist even before Rimmer delivered his five-minute opening statement at the King boys' trial Tuesday. Chavis took the stand outside the presence of the King boys' six-member jury to assert his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.

Even if he was acquitted by the sealed verdict, Chavis' lawyer noted that he is still expected to face a second trial for charges of accessory to murder after the fact and for alleged sexual misconduct with Alex King.

Rimmer left the saga of Ricky Chavis and his involvement with Derek and Alex King to the defense attorneys' opening statements. The prosecutor instead laid out what he intends to prove through the testimony of more than two dozen witnesses.

According to Rimmer, on Nov. 26 at 1:39 a.m. firefighters responded to a 911 call about a fire at the Cantonment, Fla., home that Terry King shared with his sons, Derek and Alex. The boys were nowhere to be found, but firefighters discovered Terry King's lifeless body lying on a recliner in the smoke-filled living room.

The following day, Chavis showed up at the local sheriff's office with the boys and a claim that they had been hiding out in the woods and called him for a ride. After initially claiming that there was a fight and things got out of hand, the boys confessed that Derek struck his father with a baseball bat as he slept numerous times to end abuse.

"They said their father was playing mind games, mentally abusing them, staring them down, things of that nature," Rimmer told jurors.

The prosecutor pinned the planning on Alex King, who looked down during much of the proceedings and doodled on a yellow legal pad.

"The evidence is going to show that Alex ... is the one who wanted his father dead and encouraged Derek to do it," Rimmer said.

Alex's lawyer, James Stokes, countered during his opening statement that everything the boys initially told police was the product of manipulation by Chavis. Stokes had Alex, who looks much younger than his 13 years, stand up before he described an alleged sexual relationship between Chavis and the baby-faced defendant that began when Alex was just 11 years old.

"He told first Alex, and then both boys, that their father was staring at them. Their father was yelling at them when they did something wrong. That that was mental abuse," Stokes said, pacing in front of the jury box as he spoke. "Ricky Chavis, once he began his relationship with Alex, he started [saying] ..., 'Terry King can't love you the way I can. You are a very special child, Alex.'"

The defense claims that Chavis was becoming concerned that Terry King suspected his friend of having an inappropriate relationship with his sons. Chavis planned to kill King and conceal the murder with a fire. Having been convicted of child molestation and sent to prison in 1984, Chavis could not afford to have Alex's father learn about the true nature of the relationship, Stokes said.

"He knows if that relationship is discovered he will go to prison forever," Stokes said.

According to the defense lawyer, Chavis sent Alex home with instructions to unlock the back door to the house before going to bed. Chavis entered the house after midnight, sent the boys out to his car, killed Terry King and then started the fire in a back bedroom.

Stokes charged that the plan went awry when firefighters arrived and extinguished the blaze before it reached the room were the attack occurred. Chavis then convinced the boys that they were just as guilty as he was, Stokes said, and that they, as juveniles with less to lose, should protect him by giving false confessions.

Derek King's lawyer, Sharon Potter, merely asked jurors to keep an open mind as they listen to evidence, which will show, she claimed, that the prosecution's version of events is inaccurate.

While jurors viewed crime scene photos, dark-haired Derek rocked gently in his chair at one defense table while his blonde brother, Alex, swiveled in his chair at another.

During a court break, both boys chatted and smiled at each other when lawyers were away but stopped when they returned.

Through seven witnesses called by the prosecution in rapid succession, jurors learned a lot about the boys in a short period of time.

Nancy Lay testified that from 1995 until Oct. 1, 2001, Derek lived with her and her husband as a foster child. She said the boy seemed "enthralled" by fire and the couple felt he needed professional help.

Lay also testified that Derek, who was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder but was enrolled in gifted student classes, did not want to live with his father because he feared emotional abuse. Derek and Alex had run away from their father's home and were in hiding when Lay ran into Derek and threatened to call authorities.

"He said, 'Please don't send me back there. I can't go back,'" Lay testified. "He said, 'If you send us back my brother has a plan to kill him."

Little forensics, many witnesses

After calling a handful of witnesses to testify that Terry King was most likely asleep in a recliner when the first blow struck his skull, Rimmer called several Florida fire marshal's office investigators to testify about the investigation of the fire.

Reginald Hurchins, a forensic analyst, testified that sets of sneakers worn by both boys on the night of the killing revealed traces of "an aromatic solvent," an ignitable liquid of some sort. But tests on other evidence, including debris of the fire, also revealed traces of a different accelerant, something with a petroleum base.

The defense claims that the liquid detected on the boys' sneakers was paint thinner, remnants of house painting they had done with their father.

The state's case, however, is not based on forensics. Rimmer did not even mention physical evidence during his opening statement, offering only that the boys revealed details about the crime scene that indicated they had been in the room when the attack occurred.

The prosecution is instead built on a foundation that may stand or fall on statements Derek and Alex made to police officers, relatives, friends and other inmates.

Theresa Schumate said Derek told her during a prison visit on the day of Terry King's funeral that he killed his father. Schumate is a longtime friend of the boys' estranged mother.

"He said he killed his father with a ball bat and that he hit him about 10 times, and during this he was crying," Schumate said. "He was very, very upset."

Chris Bryan, a juvenile justice detention center inmate, also testified that Derek confessed while he was incarcerated with the boys last year.

"He told me that he just got mad at his dad because he didn't want to get beat anymore, so he just killed his dad with a baseball bat," Bryan testified. "He told me his brother, Alex King, planned it."

Darrin Mathus, a former juvenile justice detention center inmate, gave similar testimony again implicating Alex as the instigator among the brothers.

Rick Chavis' brother also claimed to have heard a confession. Mike Chavis testified, as he did at the first trial, that he and his brother were in the home they shared when their police scanner announced a house fire at the King home. At about the same time, the telephone rang and Mike Chavis heard his brother say, "What's wrong?"

Moments later, Ricky Chavis slammed the phone down and left for about 30 minutes. When he returned, according to his brother, Alex and Derek were with him. Derek reported that he had attacked his father.

"He said he hit his dad over the head with a bat," Mike Chavis testified.

Sharon Potter, Derek's lawyer, suggested on cross-examination that Mike Chavis was protecting his brother because he relied on him for financial support.

Regarding the alleged sexual relationship Ricky Chavis had with Alex, Mike Chavis insisted that he only observed hugging but testified that his brother expressed an interest in having a relationship with Alex when he reached the age of 16. According to Alex's lawyer, Stokes, both Mike Chavis and Derek were present when Ricky Chavis sat Alex on his lap and kissed him.

Testimony resumes at 10 a.m. EDT Wednesday, when the prosecution is expected to call its 20th witness.




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