Speculation on the King Brothers Case

by Joe Power



The case of Derek and Alex King, accused and convicted of murdering their father so they could go live with an adult male lover, gripped the country this past fall. There was heavy media coverage of the case, repeated clips of Alex’s testimony and lots and lots of speculation and pontification on virtually every aspect of the case by the many talking heads on the networks.

The one question that those pundits could not really answer was why the boys did it. Why would two seemingly normal kids from a seemingly normal home kill their father? Oh there was the facile blather about the boys wanting to live with an indulgent child molestor who let them do whatever they wanted but such a desire isn’t nearly enough to commit murder for (if it were, there would be a lot more dead parents in this country).

Much of this essay is speculation but, I hope, reasonable speculation which fits and explains the facts of the case well.  I think that the pundits couldn’t explain what happened with any assurance because to do so they would have had to confront the role certain deeply ingrained social myths about child sexuality played in this murder.[1]

First, a quick recap of the case:
 

In November of 2001 Alex and Derek ran away from home for a week and lived with Rick Chavis. After they returned home they continued to be unhappy and finally, on the night of the 25th Derek killed his father with an aluminum baseball bat and then the boys set fire to the house.
After the boys were caught they confessed to the murder but later recanted and said that Chavis had done it. It was discovered that Rick and Alex had had a sexual relationship and Alex considered himself gay. Chavis was arrested and charged with sexually abusing a minor and obstructing justice (he’d hidden the boys from the police for several days).
Soon after the boys recanted and named Chavis as the killer the prosecutor, David Rimmer, indicted him for muder. This caused quite a stir because he had charged the boys (as adults) with the very same same murder. In two separate trials he presented two mutually exclusive versions of how the murder took place.
The Chavis trial finished first and the judge had the verdict sealed until the King brothers’ trial concluded. It was then that the problems really started. The Chavis jury had found him not guilty of the murder.[2] The King brothers’ jury found them guilty of murder because, they said, the boys had let Chavis in to murder the father. Because of this the boys were looking at sentences of 22 years to life.
No one seemed pleased by the outcome[3] and the judge used the prosecution’s choice to argue both ways as a pretext to toss out the boys’ convictions. He then, in a rare display of common sense, ordered the two sides into mediation to see if they could reach a mutually acceptable compromise. They did and the boys pled guilty to 3rd degree murder. Derek was given an 8 year sentence and Alex a 7 year one. Both will be offered counseling. — End of recap
Why were the boys, especially Alex, so unhappy with their homelife? One theory that fits is that they felt a great deal of oppression living in a homophobic environment. Many gay kids have felt such oppression. Some deal with it by escaping (which is why so many gay kids run away). Some internalize it (which is why the suicide rate is so high amongst gay teens). A few lash out and fight back.

This explains Alex’s actions, but what about Derek’s? As one reads the news reports and watches the testimony one gets the feeling that Derek enjoyed the attention & gifts Rick Chavis gave them but was not as enthusiastic as Alex about the sexual activities. Why, then, did he kill his father? Again, this is speculation, but it fits the evidence well. Derek had been away from his father for several years living in a foster home. By all accounts it was a good, stable situation. Derek felt an unbreakable bond with his brother but, I think, not nearly so deep a one with his father (who, when Derek was moved back home, had supplanted the position his foster father had held). Derek was forced to choose between his father and his brother and he chose his brother.

And what of Rick Chavis in all this? This is a much harder question to answer because what we know of the man and his actions comes to us heavily filtered and distorted by the media reports on the case. Still, it sounds as if he made some of the mistakes boy lovers all too often make in such relationships – the relationship was steeped in secrets and lies and he overindulged the boys.[4]I don’t condemn him for this -- our society works so hard to destroy such relationships that some boy lovers see secrets and overindulgences as necessary evils.

Make no mistake - the murder of Terry King was a tragedy and a crime. Derek and Alex did a terrible thing and deserve punishment no matter how photogenic they are. Rick Chavis, though probably not the demon he’s been made out to be, is not the hero. (In fact, if there is any hero here I’d say it is Judge Bell who had the courage to throw out the boys’ convictions and give justice a chance.)[5]

But if society made a place for man/boy relationships then it is likely this killing (and a lot of suicides and running away) would not have occurred. It also needs to fundamentally rethink the way it treats children. It can’t keep on considering them infants one moment and adults the next.[6] How many lives are we willing to pay for our folly?

One last thing — I thought this essay by Sara Pursley in the Gay City News was excellent and I urge you to read it:

              http://www.gaycitynews.com/GCN16/trialofalex.html
 —————————————

Notes:

[1]   Here’s what the King grandfather told Connie Chung of CNN about a conversation he had with Derek:

We were discussing, while they were in jail, about church work and everything. And Derek looked at me and said, “I go to the Olive Baptist Church,” and said, “They’re prejudiced.” And I looked at him and I said, “Well, what do you mean they’re prejudiced?”

He said, “Well, they’re against homosexuals.” And then Derek looked at me and he says, “Are you against homosexuals?” And I said, “Yes, I am.” I said: “It’s dirty. It’s filthy.” And I said, “The Bible is against it.” And then I shot the question immediately back to Derek, “Are you a homosexual?”

And he threw his arms up and said to me, between his arms, “No, I’m not.”

The grandfather also told Chung that he always suspected the boys were involved in the murder, though he claimed their father never mistreated them. When asked to explain what their motive could have been, he said cryptically: “Well, there’s a lot of circumstance that was around the murder, and their lifestyle.”

Prosecutor Rimmer argued in the Chavis case that the boys’ motive was to escape a controlling father and live with Chavis. He let them play video games, stay up late watching television and smoke marijuana when they went to his house after running away from home 10 days before the killing, Rimmer said.

He also pointed to Alex’s affection for Chavis, reading from several love letters he had written including one that ended “Before I met Rick I was straight but now I am gay.”

[2]   It would have been terribly easy and tempting to demonize the “child molester”. Chavis’ lawyer, Michael Rollo, acknowledged the delicate nature of the case in his closing arguments. “We don’t like to say that children with cherubim faces can be cold, calculating, homicidal psychopaths,” he said.

In his case against the brothers, prosecutor David Rimmer asked jurors in his closing argument to guard against being swayed by anger with Chavis. “You don’t like Chavis?” Rimmer said. “Nobody likes Chavis. Chavis is the kind of guy everybody wants to hate. What’s lower than a child molester?” {how about a prosecutor who talks out of both sides of his mouth? - ed.}

But the prosecution’s case against Chavis was weak. The most damaging evidence against the King brothers were the recorded confessions they gave a day after their father was killed.  “I made sure he was asleep,” Derek told investigators. “I got the bat and I hit him over the head.”

They also confessed to other witnesses, including their mother. Derek’s former guardians also testified he told them two days before the murder that the boys wanted to kill their father and already had a plan.

Chavis still faces trial on a single count of committing a lewd and lascivious act against the younger brother, obstruction of justice and several other charges.

[3]   One analyst said: “It’s not unusual to have co-defendants to a murder. What’s unusual is to have separate trials in which the government’s theories of the case contradict each other. Either the boys did it or Chavis did but all three could not have done it if you buy the prosecution’s argument and that means big problems for the State on appeal if there are convictions in both cases.”

“Prosecutors cannot be right in both cases - either the boys killed their father or Chavis did - which means that in one of these cases prosecutors will stand up in front of a jury and unjustly accuse and try to convict the wrong person or people.”

Another wrote: “Can anyone honestly claim that David Rimmer discharged his obligation under the law - that he presented both the grand jury and the trial juries with a single, coherent case in which he believed? Can anyone sincerely claim Rimmer provided evidence of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt before laying charges against Chavis?

Unlike the defense attorney, whose job it is to defend the accused, regardless of guilt, the prosecutor’s job is to jail only those who are actually guilty. It is not unethical for a defense attorney to get a guilty client off - if the prosecutor can’t meet his burden of proof, it’s not the defense’s fault. But it is unethical for the prosecutor to prosecute someone he does not firmly believe is guilty.

Not only were David Rimmer’s dual trials under mutually exclusive theories inconsistent with his prosecutorial duties, they were tantamount to prosecutorial misconduct and violation of due process.”

And yet another: “Matters were rendered unclean when, in trial B, the defense’s case became the prosecution’s case. The same prosecutor, who had the boys wielding the bat in one trial, argued to a different jury that Ricky Chavis wielded the very same bat.

Tough-on-crime - and often as-thick-as-stumps - conservatives show little care for the Rights of Englishmen. They care not that “... the foremost task of a justice system is to find justice and serve the truth.” I can hear them say, “Throw the book at the contemptible pedophile, just so long as something sticks.”

Prosecutorial power to bring charges against a person is an awesome power, stress Paul Craig Roberts and Lawrence M. Stratton in “The Tyranny of Good Intentions.” Backing him, the prosecutor has the might of the state, and must never “override the rights of the defendant in order to gain a conviction.”

Prosecutorial duties are dual. While acting as the plaintiff, the prosecutor must also take pains to protect the defendant’s rights.”

Finally, Circuit Judge Frank Bell himself said the boys’ rights were violated by the “unusual and bizarre” way prosecutors simultaneously argued two contradictory theories of the crime.

[4]   Derek King, in his statement, said Chavis “encouraged my brother Alex and I to run away” and skip school, let them stay up late and sleep late, and hid them when their father came over.   “He told us that Dad would kill us before he would let us live with Rick,” Derek said in the statement read by the judge.

Derek’s statement said that Chavis had encouraged the boys to lie by telling police that they had killed their father because he was abusive.  “That was not true,” Derek said. “My dad never abused me.” {I find it very informative that he said "me" instead of "us".)

 “I wanted to be with Rick because I was in love with Rick,” the boy said. “He said my dad would have killed us before he would have let us go.”

[5]   Judge Bell thoroughly questioned the boys about their understanding of the proceedings, whether they consider themselves legally incompetent — as their mother alleged in a faxed letter to the judge — and whether they trusted their attorneys.

Both answered that they were satisfied with their attorneys’ representation in court and believed they had their clients best interests at heart – a position the boys’ mother challenged.

Both answered a crisp “No, sir,” when Bell asked if they thought anyone had tried to mislead them in any way.

[6]  In a sad and cynical twist to the case, the attorneys hired by ex-talk show host Rosie O’Donnell to help the boys’ mother, Kelly Marino (who abandoned the boys years ago), tried to file a motion for a competency hearing for the boys.

 “A big issue was made out of the children’s competency in court today,” one of Marino’s attorneys, Ron Johnson, said after the sentencing. “She’s not saying they’re crazy. She’s saying they (were) 12 and 13 years old and she thinks it’s only reasonable for them to be evaluated by a psychiatrist before they enter a plea agreement to such serious charges.”

 Marino told reporters that she believed the boys’ guilty plea was involuntary because they “don’t know the seriousness of this.” She also said she had talked with the boys “a million times” and they had repeatedly assured her they did not commit the crimes of which they were accused.

Prosecutor Rimmer dismissed Marino — who left the family when the boys were very young — saying the King brothers “would not be going to the state pen if she’d paid more attention to them in their playpens.”

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