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Catherine Saillant, LATimes/LANow: Jury unable to reach verdict in killing of gay student Larry King

Jury unable to reach verdict in killing of gay student Larry King
by Catherine Saillant, September 1, 2011

A jury has been unable to reach a verdict in the murder trial of Brandon McInerney, the 17-year-old accused of shooting a gay classmate to death in 2008.

The jury began deliberating Friday, weighing eight weeks of testimony in a trial that included nearly 100 witnesses. Many of those testifying were students and teachers at E.O. Green Junior High School in Oxnard who saw tensions on campus rising after 15-year-old Larry King began coming to school dressed in makeup and girl’s boots.

McInerney, then 14, shot King twice in the back of the head in a school computer lab on Feb. 12, 2008. The prosecution says it was a calculated murder carried out in part because McInerney was exploring white supremacist ideology and didn’t like homosexuals.

Defense attorneys painted a different picture, that of a bright but abused 14-year-old who snapped after being sexually harassed by King.

The trial was followed closely by gay-rights groups that have fought hard to protect gay and transgendered students from campus bullying. But as the weeks of testimony rolled on and a more nuanced portrait emerged of what was happening at E.O. Green in the weeks before the shooting, it also raised a host of thorny questions.

Why didn’t the school administrators step in to quell the tensions rising on campus after King started taunting boys on campus with flirtations that he knew would upset them? Was the defense employing a “gay panic” strategy in blaming the victim for being killed? And, more broadly, why was McInerney, who was 14 at the time of the killing, even being tried as an adult?

Over eight weeks of testimony, the prosecution laid out a case of premeditated murder by McInerney, who prosecutor Maeve Fox described as a bright boy from a broken and violent home who knew what he was doing when he brought a .22-caliber gun to school.

McInerney was upset that King had come up to him at school the day before and said, “What’s up, baby?” Fox said.

He told a defense psychologist that he found King’s attentions “disgusting” and “humiliating” and that King would have to pay for it. He told a school friend that he was going to bring a gun to school the next day, and he did, Fox said.

Then, in a school computer lab, he shot King at point-blank range in the back of the head not once but twice before dropping the weapon and stalking out of the classroom.

Those facts, unchallenged by the defense, constitute a clear case of premeditated murder, Fox said. The prosecution asked the jury to also categorize the killing as a hate crime because a prosecution witness had testified that McInerney was a budding white supremacist who hated gays.

Defense attorney Scott Wippert and co-counsel Robyn Bramson didn’t dispute that McInerney killed King. But they argued he was pushed to an emotional breaking point by King’s attentions toward him and the school’s failure to rein in King’s conduct.

They also appeared to reach out for jury sympathy by calling several of McInerney’s relatives to the stand to testify to the abuse the young boy suffered at the hands of his drug-abuser father.

McInerney was a boy who couldn’t cry, because if he did his father would smack him in the face and tell him to take it like a man, his aunts testified.

Other family members said the father seemed to delight in humiliating his son in public. The father died from a fall while his son was incarcerated.

Wippert told jurors that his client killed King but should be found guilty of voluntary manslaughter, not murder.

In closing arguments, he implied that McInerney should not ever have been put in front of them because the act happened when was a youth.

“Use your common sense, use your heart, use your soul,” he told the jury. “Remember this is a 14-year-old child, and you’re going to do what’s right.”


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