A teenager who fatally shot a gay classmate in the back of the head during an Oxnard middle school computer lab will spend 21 years in prison under a plea deal reached Monday, closing the books on a case that drew international headlines and ignited debate on how schools should handle sexual identity issues.
Brandon McInerney, who was 14 when he pulled a gun out of his backpack and shot Larry King two times at point-blank range, will be kept behind bars until he is 38 under the terms of the deal struck by Ventura County prosecutors.
In an unusual arrangement, the 17-year-old pleaded guilty to second-degree and voluntary manslaughter. In return, prosecutors agreed not to go forward with a second trial, which could have resulted in a life sentence.
The family of the victim, Larry King, broke their silence on the case outside court Monday, saying that they supported the sentence but believed school officials hold deep responsibility for what happened.
“Larry had a complicated life, but he did not deserve to be murdered,” said the youth’s father, Greg King.
McInerney’s first trial ended in a hung jury in early September, with jurors torn between murder and manslaughter. Some jurors said they believed the district attorney’s office was being overly harsh in trying McInerney as an adult and several showed up Monday wearing “Save Brandon” bracelets.
Greg King said he was satisfied by the deal reached with his son’s killer, given the “unpredictability of juries.”
“Twenty-one years is a long time,” King said. “At the end of the day, this is something we can live with.”
McInerney shot King in a school computer lab at E.O Green Junior High in Oxnard in February 2008, after days of conflict between the boys. Students and teachers at the trial testified that King had been dressing in women’s accessories and wearing makeup, and was flirting aggressively with male students on campus who did not want the attention.
School administrators sent a memo advising teachers to give King his space, but to report safety problems.
Teachers at the trial testified that when they tried to report growing tensions between King and several boys, school leaders shunned them.
The victim’s mother, Dawn King, revealed for the first time Monday that she had contacted school officials four days before the shooting in an effort to solicit their cooperation in toning down her son’s behavior. The boy had been taken from the Kings’ home two months earlier by authorities because of problems at home.
She said she was told that her son had a civil right to explore his sexual identity.
“I knew, gut instinct, that something serious was going to happen,” she said. “They should have contained him, contained his behavior.”
Prosecutors said the first trial showed that the case was too emotional to take to trial a second time.
“The first jury was unable to keep their emotions out of it,” Ventura County Chief Deputy Dist. Atty. Mike Frawley said. “This really tugged powerfully at people’s hearts.”
During the first trial, prosecutors portrayed McInerney as a budding white supremacist who hated homosexuals and was enraged by King’s sexuality and aggressive flirtations. Jurors rejected that contention and the hate crime allegation was dropped when prosecutors announced last month that they would retry McInerney.
Defense lawyers argued that McInerney was the product of a violent and dysfunctional home and had reached an emotional breaking point in response to King’s advances.
At Monday’s hearing, McInenery’s family left the courtroom without comment after the plea agreement was announced.
McInerney’s mother, Kendra, sobbed loudly as her son, clad in a dark blue jail jumpsuit, answered “guilty” to the two charges -- one of the few times he has spoken in the courtroom.
Scott Wippert and Robyn Bramson said their client is mentally preparing himself for state prison.
He will be transferred to a state facility in January, when he turns 18. Though he will spend many years behind bars, Brandon McInerney is grateful that he will one day be free, his attorney said.
“Now he has a date he can circle on his calendar,” Wippert said.
After the first trial, gay-rights advocates were largely silent.
After Monday’s announcement, the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, which offers on-campus support for gay and lesbian students, said the plea bargain shows McInerney is being held accountable for his actions.
Bramson said she hopes the case has raised awareness that parents and school administrators need to be involved and aware of what is happening with their children at school. In this case, all of the adults failed, she said.
“This was so preventable and it shouldn’t ever happen again,” she said.