Makeshift memorial

Students pass by a makeshift memorial honoring fifteen-year-old Lawrence King which lies beneath the flagpole at E.O. Green School Thursday, Feb. 14, 2008. (Phil McCarten / Associated Press / February 14, 2008)

Ventura County prosecutors charged a 14-year-old boy with the shooting death of a classmate Thursday and said the killing in an Oxnard classroom was a premeditated hate crime.

Senior Deputy Dist. Atty. Maeve Fox declined to discuss a motive in the shooting or why prosecutors added the special allegation of a hate crime against Brandon McInerney, who was charged as an adult.

But classmates of the slain boy, Lawrence King, said he recently had started to wear makeup and jewelry and had proclaimed himself gay. Several students said King and a group of boys, including the defendant, had a verbal confrontation concerning King's sexual orientation a day before the killing.

King, 15, was declared brain-dead and was expected to be taken off a ventilator late Thursday so organs could be removed for donation, said Craig Stevens, senior county deputy medical examiner.

King was shot in the head early Tuesday in a classroom full of students at E.O. Green Junior High School. Police said the suspect fled and was apprehended a few blocks away.

McInerney's family was in a Ventura courtroom Thursday as the adolescent was brought into a holding chamber to face charges.

His arraignment was delayed to give his attorney time to review the police investigation before entering a plea.

McInerney was charged with premeditated murder with enhancements of use of a firearm and a hate crime.

Because he is a minor, McInerney will remain in Juvenile Hall and be taken to the Ventura courtroom for court appearances, Fox said. He is being held in lieu of $770,000 bail.

If convicted, McInerney could face 50 years to life. The hate crime enhancement would add another one to three years to his sentence.

"In Ventura County, we've never had a violent shooting like this," Fox said. "It's very tragic."

The defendant's family declined to talk to reporters, rushing out of the courthouse after a short hearing. But his attorney, Brian Vogel, said McInerney and the boy's family also were hurting.

"Both Brandon and the family are terribly sad to learn [King] is brain-dead," he said.

Vogel declined to discuss the case but said he would ask the court to move it back into the juvenile system. McInerney had no criminal history and was generally a good student at E.O. Green, where he was an eighth-grader.

Vogel said the boy turned 14, the legal cutoff for charging an adolescent as an adult, on Jan. 24. Voters gave prosecutors the option of charging teenage suspects as adults under 2002's Proposition 21.

Details on the backgrounds of both boys began to emerge Thursday. King was a foster child living at Casa Pacifica, a shelter for abused and troubled children in Camarillo.

Steven Elson, executive director at Casa Pacifica, said he could not discuss how long King had lived there or the circumstances involving his removal from his family.

But Elson said King had made many friends on the sprawling residential campus and that many of the children were grieving his loss.

"It's been a sad couple of days here," Elson said.