Attorneys offered jurors markedly different portraits of slain gay student Larry King on the opening day of trial for Brandon McInerney, the youth charged with shooting King to death in an Oxnard classroom three years ago.
Prosecutor Maeve Fox talked of a shy, effeminate student who had recently come out of his shell to assert his sexuality and paid a price for it at the hands of a classmate with white supremacist tendencies. Defense attorney Scott Wippert portrayed King, 15, as the aggressor, flirting and taunting McInerney so relentlessly that it triggered their fatal clash.
Those differing views were drawn as attorneys made their opening statements in the murder trial being held in a Chatsworth courtroom. McInerney, who was 14 at the time of the shooting, is being tried as an adult before a jury of nine women and three men.
The proceedings got off to a rocky start for the defense when McInerney's half brother, James Bing, talked to jurors outside the courtroom. Bing, 25, told jurors, "the fate of my brother is in your hands," angering Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Charles Campbell.
Campbell ordered Bing out of the courtroom for the rest of the trial. Then, after the day's testimony ended and jurors had left the courtroom, Campbell found Wippert in contempt of court in another matter and fined him $500.
While questioning a police officer who had spoken to McInerney shortly after the shooting, Wippert attempted to elicit that the defendant appeared remorseful. But in pre-trial proceedings the judge had ordered both attorneys not to bring up McInerney's statements to police.
"You should know better than that," Campbell told Wippert. "I'm expecting that you are a more experienced counsel for a case like this."
Fox, a veteran Ventura County prosecutor, led the jury through a 90-minute outline of the case, starting by flashing a large photograph of a cherubic-faced King on a projector. She next showed the defendant's booking photos, portraying a tall and muscular McInerney with shaved head, taken within hours of the killing.
McInerney was angry with King, she said, because King had decided he was no longer going to take the bullying that he had been subjected to for years. Slight and "very effeminate," King had only girls for friends and was shunned by the boys, Fox said.
But after King was removed from his home and placed into a children's shelter, he underwent a change in attitude, the prosecutor said. He became more confident in school and started wearing high-heeled boots, makeup and jewelry along with his uniform. School rules did not prohibit this.
King knew it was within his rights to assert a budding feminine identity, and he took full advantage, she said.
"Larry King for the first time in his life wasn't taking it anymore," Fox said. "He started to give people what I prefer to call the proverbial chin, only it was more profane."
McInerney responded by calling King homosexual slurs, the prosecutor said. On Feb. 11, 2008, they clashed again verbally in class. This time McInerney told other students sitting with them that he was "going to shoot" King, the prosecutor said.
Immediately after class, McInerney and King exchanged words once more, she said. King turned to McInerney and said, mockingly, "I love you, baby!" Fox said. McInerney then tried to recruit friends to jump King, she said; when that was unsuccessful, McInerney made his own plan.
The next day, McInerney sat directly behind King in a computer lab. Shortly after class started, he pulled out a .22-caliber gun and shot King twice in the back of the head, Fox told jurors. Then he dropped the weapon, pulled his hood up over his head and walked out of the room, she said.
He was taken into custody a short time later.
Wippert's 30-minute opening statement focused on both of the boys' troubled backgrounds and on McInerney's inability to deal with the humiliation of having an openly gay boy flirt with him at school. In contrast to the district attorney's slide show presentation, Wippert simply stood before the jury and talked, occasionally consulting his notes.
McInerney reached an "emotional breaking point" and saw no other way to stop the sexual harassment by King, Wippert said. His own violent and dysfunctional family offered no help, and school officials had made it clear that King was permitted to flaunt his sexuality, even if it was disruptive, the defense attorney said.
He called the prosecution's allegation that McInerney was acting out of white supremacist beliefs a red herring. He said that the Nazi iconography and copies of Hitler's speeches found in the boy's room were related to his work on a World War II paper.
There was no hate crime, just the frustration of an adolescent with nowhere to turn, he told the jury. "Why would a student complain when everyone knows about it and no one is going to do anything about it?" he posited.
Wippert suggested that a psychologist will testify that McInerney was in a dissociative state at the time of the shooting, not in touch with the reality of what he was doing.
He also told the jury there is evidence that King had been making inappropriate sexual comments at school since the fifth grade.
"He did shoot Larry King," Wippert said of his client. "He did this out of a heat of passion, and that is voluntary manslaughter."