After hearing testimony for three days, a judge Wednesday said a gay junior high school student in Oxnard was fatally shot in class "with the cold-blooded precision of an executioner" and that 15-year-old Brandon McInerney should stand trial for the crime.
Summing up evidence from investigators, Ventura County Superior Court Judge Ken Riley took note of McInerney's telling other students about his intent to kill Larry King, a 15-year-old who wore makeup, earrings and high heels to school.
"You better say goodbye to him because you won't see him again," McInerney said, according to investigators' interviews with students.
McInerney allegedly shot King twice in the head Feb. 12, 2008, as their class sat in a computer lab at E.O. Green Junior High School. Barely 14 at the time of the crime, McInerney has been charged as an adult with first-degree murder. On Wednesday, the judge said the charge was appropriate, along with an allegation that it was a hate crime.
During the hearing, an investigator testified about an Oxnard man who allegedly was McInerney's neo-Nazi "mentor." Simi Valley Police Det. Dan Swanson, an expert on white supremacists, also pointed to McInerney's apparent interest in Nazi symbols, including swastika-riddled drawings found in his possession.
On Wednesday, the judge also agreed to a newly added special circumstance that McInerney was lying in wait for King. The shooting took place 15 or 20 minutes into class. King was shot from behind.
After the hearing, prosecutor Maeve Fox said McInerney could face 53 years to life if convicted.
The Ventura County district attorney's office has offered him a 25-year sentence in exchange for a guilty plea, but he has not accepted the deal. On Wednesday, Fox said the offer is still on the table.
McInerney's attorneys would not discuss their client's reaction to the plea-bargain offer. They said they are planning to ask appellate judges to order the case into Juvenile Court, where sentences are lighter and more rehabilitative services are available. Although California law allows 14-year-old murder defendants to be tried as adults, attorney Scott Wippert said Ventura County prosecutors had "abused their discretion" in charging McInerney.
In the preliminary hearing, the defense suggested that McInerney had been sexually abused as a child. They said he felt threatened by King, who returned taunts from him and other boys with sexual overtures and declarations of love.
At Wednesday's hearing, McInerney attorney Robyn Bramson summed up the defense strategy. In exasperation, she asked an investigator: "What if you talked to Brandon and he said, 'I did it because this kid was sexually harassing me and I felt panicked, freaked out and uncomfortable'?"
The judge ruled the question improper, and the investigator did not have to answer.