Lucky Break For Killer Boys?

Nearly a year after Terry King's body was found bludgeoned inside his burning home, his two teenage sons pleaded guilty to his murder — and were spared a harsh prison term.

Derek King, 14, and Alex King, 13, admitted to third-degree murder and arson charges as part of a plea agreement Thursday, the result of weeks of court-ordered mediation after the judge tossed out their second-degree murder convictions.

Circuit Judge Frank Bell cited the bizarre circumstances of the trial, including the nearly simultaneous trial of a convicted child molester for the murder.

Derek was sentenced to eight years in prison and his brother received seven years, each with credit for nearly a year already served. Sentencing guidelines provided for a term ranging from 12.5 years to 45 years in prison.

CBS News Correspondent Bobbi Harley reports that at the same time the King brothers were being sentenced for beating their father to death, 300 miles away in another Florida courtroom, another teenager, Adam Bollenback, was sentenced for stealing beer from a neighbor's garage. He got ten years in an adult prison while Alex and Derek King got less -- seven and eight years.

As CBSNews.com Legal Analyst Andrew Cohen puts it: "People who commit murder and admit to it shouldn't get lesser sentences than people who steal beer. It just doesn't make any sense."

Neither, critics say, does the case of 12-year-old Lionel Tate, who was the same age as Alex King is now when he killed his playmate -- he was sentenced to life without parole. But that's been Florida law for more than twenty years -- adult crime means adult time.

What we've seen in Florida is really a social experiment, this effort to see whether transferring large numbers of young people to the adult criminal justice system is effective, says Marc Schindler.

Since Florida courts began sending juveniles to adult prisons, the state has led the nation in doing this. And, critics say, when young people are locked up with adults, they are not rehabilitated, they're turned into hardened criminals.

One such critic is Bob Udell, whose 13-year-old client Nathaniel Brazill killed his teacher. Brazill received twenty-eight years in prison.

"Nathaniel's a good kid, but I can promise you there's not a chance in the world he's going to get out of prison twenty-right years from now and be a better citizen than he was going. That's just not realistic," Udell told Harley.

Without a sweeping change in Florida's policy, legal experts say it's up to individual judges, like the one who threw out Derek and Alex king's original sentence and gave them a second chance.

The case drew widespread attention in part because prosecutors presented evidence at one trial that Chavis was the killer and argued before another jury that the boys did it. Neither jury knew about the other.

Chavis was acquitted. The boys were convicted.

All three had been indicted for first-degree murder and had faced automatic sentences of life without parole if convicted of that charge.

The boys issued new sworn statements Thursday, similar to earlier confessions they gave police about the Nov. 26 murder, and then later recanted.

"Alex suggested that I kill dad," Derek said in his statement. "I murdered my dad with an aluminum baseball bat. I set the house on fire from my dad's bedroom."

Alex wrote out his statement, saying he talked with his brother about killing their 40-year-old father so they could live with the family friend, Rick Chavis, a convicted child molester.

"Rik told me he loved me," Alex wrote. "Rik told me I was gay & only he understood me."

The boys' mother, Kelly Marino, made a last-ditch request to have the boys examined by mental health experts, but the judge said the request had no standing.

"They're 13 and 14 years old," Marino said after the hearing. "They're not able to make this judgment for the rest of their lives, and none of us were allowed to have a say in that."

Marino said she would challenge the plea deals.

One child advocate asked Gov. Jeb Bush to intervene, saying the boys could not understand the complexity of the mediation.

"Please join me in raising a human cry," said Val J. Peter, executive director of Girls and Boys Town. "Sending these boys to prison will serve only to be a great expense to the taxpayers of Florida and a great detriment to their development as human beings.

"This will not bring justice to anyone."

But Assistant State Attorney David Rimmer said he was confident the settlement would be upheld.

Bell took the unusual step of ordering mediation after throwing out the murder convictions in part because of the contradictory trials. He said he would have ordered a retrial had mediation failed.

Two Miami lawyers hired by comedian Rosie O'Donnell after the trial failed to get competency examinations for the boys after Bell ruled they were not attorneys of record.

Marino and her mother, Linda Walker, both later said they still believe the boys are innocent, but Walker said the settlement was probably the best outcome they could have received.

"They are still in the adult system, but they are not with these older men that are going to use them," Walker said.

Mediator Bill Eddins said a key factor in reaching the settlement was an assurance by state prison officials that the boys would be placed with inmates their own age. He said they would receive schooling and counseling, if needed, and be able to participate in recreational activities.