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Video: King brothers: ‘People do make mistakes’

TODAY contributor
updated 9/8/2009 9:10:45 AM ET 2009-09-08T13:10:45

The two young men talked about the normal concerns of people their age — going to school and looking for jobs. And they talked about what they call the “mistake” they made eight years ago — when, at the ages of 12 and 13, they beat their father to death with a baseball bat, then set fire to their home to cover up the crime.

“Not to minimize the situation, but we all make mistakes and we shouldn’t be judged on one act and one spot in our life,” Derek King, now 21, told TODAY’s Matt Lauer Tuesday from Jacksonville, Fla. “There are times when we do see what we did wrong and we choose to move on past that, and we acknowledge the mistakes that we made and the bad choices that we made. And we can move on past that and hopefully, we learn from our past. And it sheds light on the future and it pushes us on toward a positive path.”

Hope for the future
That path has been made smoother by people who have come to the aid of the two brothers who shocked the nation in 2001 when they were charged as adults with the grisly killing. But establishing a normal life hasn’t been easy: Derek has been searching for a job for a year and has been turned down for even the lowest of positions because of what he did.

Lauer observed that there are people who will believe, “Once a murderer, always a murderer.” He asked Alex King, now 20, how the brothers deal with that.

“To be fair to those people, we did make a mistake,” Alex replied. “Many people do make that mistake. If they choose, they’re well within their rights to consider a person once a murderer, always a murderer. However, there are a select few individuals who sometimes decide to have faith and just blindly hope in something.”

Alex, who got out of jail last year, now lives with the family of Kathryn Medico, a journalism professor who took an interest in him a year after the murder. Medico believed in the boy and stood by him, giving Alex a stable family that the boys did not have at the time of the murder.

Troubled pasts
Derek and Alex’s mother, an exotic dancer, abandoned them when they were 6 and 7. Derek, a difficult child, was sent away to live with a foster family while Alex stayed with his father, Terry, a printer. When his father was busy, Alex stayed with a family friend, Rick Chavis, who was later revealed to be a sexual predator.

Video: Web only video: Brothers describe life in prison In the fall of 2001, Derek, who had started acting out, was sent back by his foster parents to live with his father. Seven weeks later, with Derek swinging the bat and Alex urging him on, the brothers killed their father as he slept in his recliner.

The boys first pleaded guilty, then withdrew their pleas and accused Chavis of the murder. Chavis was tried but acquitted, after which the brothers were charged and tried.

The comedian and talk-show host Rosie O’Donnell took an interest in their case and paid for their legal defense. Both were found guilty and sent to separate juvenile facilities. Chavis was later convicted of being an accessory and sentenced to 35 years in prison.

For seven years, the brothers did not see each other. They were finally reunited last year at Alex’s 20th birthday party. They are close now, and Derek has also found support with the Medico family, although he lives by himself. The brothers, who were well-spoken and clean-cut for their interview, have enrolled in the same junior college.

Terry King was bludgeoned to death by his son Derek in 2001, with Alex urging his brother on.
Alex cited Medico’s belief in him. “Kathryn Medico, who I now call mother, is a prime example of that, inviting both of us into her family, into her home,” he said. “We just want to show by living our lives as productive citizens that that’s not a mistake.”

After keeping out of the media eye for so long, the brothers, who also told their story to NBC’s “Dateline” Monday, told Lauer why they have decided to finally break their silence.

“We decided to come forward because we felt that, given how we last left off in the eyes of the public, we just felt that they deserve more a follow-up to know that all their faith and their hope and good will weren’t wasted on us,” Alex said.

He said that he and Derek rarely talk about the past.

“Occasionally something will come up,” he said. “We more talk nowadays about college and where we plan to go with our lives in the future. We spend our days actually planning out job hunts and classes we’re going to take and things along those lines, as opposed to reliving the past.”

Alex and Derek King were sent to separate juvenile detention facilities. They said they have benefited from the rehabilitation programs they went through in prison.

‘There is still hope’
Lauer asked the two how they seem to have avoided the negative influences of prison and came out with such a determination to be productive citizens.

“Prison is what you make of it,” Derek said. “If you choose to do your time and benefit yourself and use it as a time of learning and a time to figure out what you did and try to work through the problems that led you that place, then you can move on past that, and you can have goals and you can set ambitions and everything in a positive manner.

“That way, on the other side of the gate, once you get released, you will have a positive future ahead of you,” Derek added.

Alex said that he and his brother both benefited in jail from counseling programs and therapists provided by the system.

Video: 'The answer should be... rehabilitation' “I spent many years inside of a program that is solely designed for therapy and rehabilitation,” he told Lauer. “Every place that I went to, as a matter of fact, I was assigned a counselor to talk to. I’ve received extensive therapy and counseling over the years. Now, outside of prison, I have not only my family group and my new friends, but also I have my church family where I’m finally able to receive Christian counseling as well.”

Alex said that people should find hope in what has happened to him and his brother in the eight years since the murder.

“Even though people do make mistakes, even though they make errors, there is still hope,” he said.

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