A lawyer for an Oxnard middle school student charged with killing gay classmate Lawrence King said Friday that he wants to get the case in front of a jury quickly now that a Ventura County judge has turned down his request to move it to juvenile court.
Deputy public defender Willie Quest said he was disappointed by Superior Court Judge Douglas Daily’s finding earlier this week that there was no constitutional violation in Dist. Atty. Gregory Totten’s decision to try Brandon McInerney, 14, as an adult.
“We hope a jury will look at it in a much more reasonable light,” Quest said. “I’m not going to allow a 14-year-old to go to prison for the rest of his life without someone other than the D.A.'s office looking at this.”
Quest said the public defender’s office may appeal Daily’s decision but would probably wait until after his client has been tried. It can take months, or even years, to get an appellate court ruling, he said.
By then, McInerney may no longer be a fresh-faced adolescent, Quest said.
“If people get to know Brandon and see Brandon as who he really is, I think they will be very unlikely to want him to die in prison,” Quest said.
Deputy Dist. Atty. Maeve Fox, the lead prosecutor, said Daily ruled appropriately. Previous courts have upheld prosecutors’ discretion in deciding in which court to file murder charges against young defendants, Fox said.
“I didn’t think it was a particularly close call,” Fox said.
McInerney is being tried in adult court under the provisions of Proposition 21, which allows prosecutors to bring murder charges against juveniles as young as 14 for certain serious crimes.
McInerney turned 14 three weeks before he walked into a classroom at E.O. Green Junior High School on Feb. 12 and allegedly shot Lawrence in the head. Lawrence, 15, was in a coma for a day before he was declared dead.
Totten, the district attorney, said the crime’s severity prompted him to file a murder charge, with a special hate crime enhancement, in adult court.
Students and other witnesses told investigators that tension had been simmering for days between the two eighth-graders. Lawrence had announced that he was gay and sometimes dressed in feminine clothing, said students, who added that McInerney was annoyed by Lawrence’s public interest in him.
If convicted on all charges, McInerney would face 51 years to life in prison, with the possibility of parole after 43 years, Fox said.
McInerney’s arraignment is set for Aug. 7. Fox suggested that the district attorney’s office might be willing to strike a plea bargain with Quest to avoid the expense and emotional trauma of a trial.
“We have told him point-blank that his case is unusual and that our minds are open,” Fox said. “There is a wide range of sentencing alternatives that can be negotiated at any time until the jury comes back with a first-degree verdict.”
Quest said he won’t try to move the trial out of Ventura County despite the intense publicity the case has generated locally. It’s a big story everywhere, he noted.