California Mistrial declared in gay student killing trial

By Thomas Watkins

Associated Press

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- A judge last week declared a mistrial in the case of a California teen who shot a gay classmate in the back of the head during a computer lab class as stunned classmates looked on.

Jurors were unable to reach a unanimous decision on the degree of Brandon McInerney's guilt for killing 15-year-old Larry King. The nine-woman, three-man panel said they took a series of votes -- the last one with seven in favor of voluntary manslaughter and five jurors supporting either first-degree or second-degree murder.

Prosecutors now have to decide whether to re-file murder and hate crime charges against McInerney, now 17, who was tried as an adult. They had offered a plea deal of 25 years to life if he pleaded guilty, but his lawyers passed. A first-degree murder conviction carried a maximum sentenced of more than 50 years in prison.

King's family rushed out of the courtroom after the judge declared a mistrial. They looked horrified and confused and declined comment as sheriff's deputies escorted them to an elevator.

McInerney's friends said prosecutors tried to sensationalize the case by calling it a hate crime by a budding white supremacist.

One juror, who identified himself only as juror no. 10, told The Associated Press that several members of the panel thought McInerney should never have been tried as an adult.

"I don't think so," the juror said, when asked if the district attorney should have pursued an adult prosecution. "He was 14. Just trying to get in the head of a 14 year old (is hard.)"

Ventura County prosecutor Maeve Fox contended McInerney, then 14, embraced a white supremacist philosophy that sees homosexuality as an abomination. Police found Nazi-inspired drawings and artifacts at his house, and a white supremacist expert testified the hate-filled ideology was the reason for the killing.

Fox also argued the attack was premeditated, noting at least six people heard McInerney make threats against King in the days leading to the shooting.

She said McInerney told a psychologist hired by defense lawyers that he wanted to kill King after he passed McInerney in a school hallway and said, "What's up, baby?"

Defense attorneys acknowledged McInerney was the shooter but explained that he had reached an emotional breaking point after King made repeated, unwanted sexual advances. McInerney snapped when he heard moments before the shooting that King wanted to change his name to Latisha, the lawyers said.

The school administration has been accused of being more concerned about defending King's civil rights than recognizing that his behavior and what he wore -- high heels, makeup and feminine clothing -- made other students uncomfortable.

The shooting roiled gay-rights advocates and parents in Oxnard. They wondered why school officials hadn't done more to stop the harassment against King by students, including McInerney.

King's family sued the school district for failing to protect their son. The lawsuit is pending.

Published: Mon, Sep 5, 2011

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