Lawrence “Larry” King, from Oxnard, California, was just 15-years-old when he was shot at point blank range by 14-year-old fellow pupil Brandon McInerney in 2008. The reason? Allegedly because of Lawrence King’s sexuality and gender expression. The young man identified himself as gay and often wore female styled clothing to school. Now a Ventura County California Judge has ruled that Brandon McInerney, who himself is now 15, should stand trial as an adult due to the premeditation of the murder he committed.
The Lawrence King Murder Case
What has become apparent since the start of the case is that the two young men in question were both deeply damaged in their own ways, and whilst King was clearly the eventual victim, both had endured various altercations with each other in the past.
But on the morning of February 12th 2008, something was different. The local paper, the Ventura County Star, detailed the case at the time, with direct excerpts from court documents. An extract reads:
“Brandon McInerney sat behind King in a computer lab class … didn’t do anything for 20 minutes, and then, without saying a word, fired one shot into the back of King’s head. As the teen collapsed to the floor, McInerney stood up, looked around at his astonished classmates and delivered a ‘second, coup de grâce’ shot into King’s head.”
Around twenty eye-witnesses were present at the time, all of whom attested that Brandon McInerney’s actions were the culmination of systematic bullying of King for his sexuality and perceived gender identity, and were attributed by some older members of the school to McInerney’s “racist skinhead philosophy”, having told fellow pupils that he would “get” King. They also said, however, that Lawrence King was perhaps equally as aggressive as McInerney and certainly did not take any insults lightly.
Under California law, the Gang Violence and Juvenile Crime Prevention Act of 1998 in particular, any minor of the age 14 or above can be tried as an adult for the crime of capital murder or serious sex offenses. In this way, the prosecution announced last year that it intended to try Brendan McInerney as an adult for the crime of first-degree murder and the additional charge of a bias motivated “hate” crime.
Trying McInerney as an adult has been controversial. During deliberation over this decision McInerney’s representation attempted to establish a subtle gay panic defense, suggesting that Lawrence King had provoked McInerney by acting provocatively toward him.
Indeed, it is reported that King would often blow kisses and wink at various male classmates, saying “I know you want me” especially when taunted or verbally abused. The school, which supported King’s right to gender and sexuality expression, did draw a line at this and warned him over this behavior.
It was said that in the weeks leading up to King’s murder, the young man had stopped such displays of defiance. Indeed, on the day he died, Lawrence King had shown up to school dressed to fit in, in low slung jeans, a simple t-shirt and a baseball cap. The court, on this basis, dismissed the claim that McInerney was acting under extreme provocation on the day of the shooting.
McInerney’s defense then peddled the notion that some scientific evidence has suggested reasoning faculties and emotional response centers in the brian are not fully developed until a person reaches their twenties, and that, because of this, McInerney could not be tried as an adult because he was biologically incapable of thinking like one. The plea was rejected.
The defense said they would appeal, which led to this weeks pre-trial hearing.
The Court Hears Testimony on Brandon McInerney’s Trail Status
The court again heard evidence as to the murder of Lawrence King, this time with Ventura County Superior court Judge Ken Riley presiding over testimony.
Monday saw a repeat of classmate testimony as well as King’s teachers giving evidence, the sum of which added up to much of what had been said earlier in the year: that King and McInerney had long had an acrimonious relationship. One teacher dismissed a pupils assertion that King had told them he and McInerney had been romantically involved as being nothing more than King seeking attention, and indeed, King’s history demonstrates a tendency for half-truths, although brazen lies were not often his style.
On Tuesday, the court was told how Brandon McInerney had been affected by neo-Nazi beliefs, having kept a book of elaborate Nazi symbology in his bedroom, as well as copies of several speeches made by Hitler translated into English and a book that detailed the lives of former members of the Hitler Youth, the LA Times reports.
Whilst McInerney’s defense team attempted to downplay these findings, saying that the materials found in McInerney’s possession were for a school book-report on World War II, the prosecution rubbished these claims, declaring that McInerney’s interest went deeper than simply doing the work he had been assigned and that the detail and nature of the materials in question clearly proved that.
It was also noted that McInerney’s parents were, at the time, friends with a known white supremacist, and that, even if Brandon did have friends at school who were of varied ethnicities and races, this was not proof against what Dan Swanson, A Simi Valley police detective and expert in neo-Nazi gangs, termed “evidence [which] strongly indicates he had been indoctrinated to some level”.
The prosecution countered, saying that, indoctrinated or not, King was evidently a mixed-race child and had, over recent months leading up to his murder, made that fact well known to McInerney and fellow pupils, adding weight to the idea that the murder was premeditated.
As before, lawyers on behalf of McInerney then went on to say that Larry King had been intimidating McInerney, and that he was a known trouble-maker. “He was harassing other students,” Scott Wippert told the court. This harassment took the form of physically and verbally fighting back if he was called names or pushed around for either identifying as gay, wearing makeup or dressing in female attire.
Maeve Fox for the prosecution quickly countered, asking, “Is the defense ‘gay panic’? This is just a fishing expedition to paint Larry King as someone who needed killing.”
The defense refuted these claims, citing that one of King’s own teachers had said she felt harassed by King’s behavior. The unnamed teacher’s claims were later thrown out as being unreliable. It was noted, though, that other teachers had commented on Larry’s appearance being a disruptive element in the classroom, and that his defiant attitude could also be problematic (since his murder it has been claimed that King, on top of an emotional disorder, may have been autistic).
The Judge’s Pre-Trial Verdict
Judge Riley finished hearing testimony on Wednesday. He quickly delivered his decision.
He ruled in favor of the prosecution’s assertions that McInerney should be tried as an adult, saying that the young man acted with “the cold-blooded precision of an executioner” in killing Lawrence King, and that, because McInerney had demonstrated premeditation in the crime by not confronting King in the playground or even the school corridors but rather waiting for him to be sat in class, unaware and unable to defend himself when shot from behind, Brandon McInerney had shown calculated malice. If convicted, McInerney will receive a minimum sentence of 53 years to life in prison.
The court, however, did offer McInerney a plea-bargain. In return for pleading guilty, the Judge ruled that McInerney’s sentence could be reduced as low as 25 years. Brandon McInerney did as he has done all along, and refused the guilty plea.
It is thought that Brandon McInerney’s lawyers will appeal yet again, but as far as the legality of trying McInerney as an adult goes, the court’s verdict seems explicit and concise. The trial may begin as early as September of this year.
With the possibility that new federal hate-crimes legislation could carry the death penalty (although I wouldn’t venture it would be used in this case at all) is it appropriate that Brandon McInerney be tried as an adult?
Photo used under Fair-Use practice. No copyright infringement intended. All rights attributed to the King Family.