PENSACOLA, Fla. (Oct. 18) - Calling the murder case against two teenage brothers ''unusual and bizarre,'' a judge tossed out the boys' convictions in their father's beating death. He ordered prosecutors and the defense to try to resolve the case in mediation.
Circuit Judge Frank Bell said Thursday the boys' rights were violated in part by the way prosecutors simultaneously presented two contradictory theories of the crime.
Prosecutors won the conviction of Alex, 13, and Derek King, 14, last month by arguing that Derek swung the aluminum baseball bat that killed their father. In a trial that ended a week earlier, the prosecution's star witnesses - Alex and Derek - testified an adult friend committed the crime.
''I inherited this case. It was unusual and bizarre,'' Bell said.
The judge said he will order a new trial for the boys, and in the meantime appoint a mediator who will try to work out a deal.
''I don't think there's a doubt in anybody's mind the jury was confused by the dual prosection,'' said Alex's lawyer, James Stokes. ''Hopefully, we'll be able to resolve the issue in mediation.''
Sharon Potter, one of Derek's lawyers, wasn't so sure.
''I would be a little surprised if we were able to mediate an agreement because the state attorney has drawn a really hard line up until now,'' Potter said. ''So it would take a major shift in their position to actually come with something to the mediation table that was acceptable.''
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 Assistant State Attorney 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 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.
Rimmer has said he was forced into that position when the brothers changed their story. They initially confessed in great detail but four months later told a grand jury Chavis committed the crime while they hid in the trunk of his car.
The brothers repeated the new story during Chavis' trial. Rimmer wanted to argue that Chavis was guilty for influencing the boys to kill their father, but Bell disallowed it for lack of evidence. The boys' testimony also contradicted that theory, the judge said.
Christopher Slobogin, a law professor at the University of Florida, said the judge made the right decision. He said the judge recognized a need to rectify an appearance of injustice, if not actual injustice, in the way prosecutors pursued conflicting cases.
''To many people, that smacked of risking inconsistent verdicts and allowing convictions when in fact there really wasn't proof beyond a reasonable doubt of guilt,'' the professor said.
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.
Stokes told NBC's ''Today'' show Friday that Alex didn't understand the significance of Thursday's ruling: When the judge announced a due process violation, Alex slipped Stokes a note saying he wished the judge would hurry because he wanted to go back to the jail and watch television