Testimony in student Brandon McInerney's murder trial this week turned heated, at one point sparking an altercation between the family of a teacher and the family of slain gay student Larry King.
Former English teacher Dawn Boldrin on Thursday broke down in tears as she described how she had given a strapless formal gown to King, 15, who identified himself as gay and had been showing up at his Oxnard school in women's spike-heeled boots and makeup.
As Boldrin testified, the defense displayed a large photograph of King, taken by Boldrin, holding up the lime-green chiffon gown and smiling broadly. McInerney's mother, Kendra McInerney, and Boldrin's 13-year-old daughter, sitting in the courtroom, also began sobbing.
An infuriated Greg King, father of Larry King, stomped out of the courtroom. He returned a short while later and rounded up the entire King family to leave the courthouse for the day. As the group walked past Boldrin's daughter and another relative, Larry's mother, Dawn King, whispered an expletive to them.
On Friday morning, Ventura County Superior Court Judge Charles Campbell ruled that was egregious enough to get Dawn King ejected from the courtroom for the rest of the trial. Outside the courtroom, Greg King explained that he became angry because he considered the women's response "crocodile tears."
"My son is dead and they're crying?" King said. "That's the woman who gave him a dress after complaining that he shouldn't be coming to school in makeup and boots!"
Testimony in the fourth week of McInerney's trial on first-degree murder and hate crime charges has centered on the defense contention that McInerney, then 14, believed the school wasn't going to do anything about King's increasingly flamboyant dress and behavior.
The defense has argued that King was sexually harassing McInerney and was allowed to do so by school administrators who claimed to be protecting King's right to wear what he wanted as long as he didn't violate E.O. Green Junior High's dress code.
McInerney shot King twice in the back of the head in a school computer lab in February 2008. Defense attorneys said he reached an emotional breaking point after weeks of unwanted flirtation by King. The 17-year-old McInerney is being tried as an adult in a Chatsworth courtroom and faces 53 years to life if convicted.
Testimony earlier in the week sought to refute prosecutor Maeve Fox's contention that McInerney was a budding white supremacist and was partly motivated by a hatred of homosexuals. Defense attorneys Scott Wippert and Robyn Bramson called on several residents of the beach community where McInerney grew up to testify that the acronym SSL stands for Silver Strand Local and not for a white power gang, as the prosecution contends.
McInerney had the SSL insignia, several swastikas and Nazi doodles in his school notebooks and at home; they were found after his arrest.
But the most emotional testimony came as Boldrin took the stand. She ventured into a previously taboo topic when she blurted out that King "had been beaten" before he was taken from his parents' home and placed in foster care.
Greg King stood up and abruptly left the courtroom. The judge quickly asked that Boldrin's statement be stricken from the record.
Boldrin said she considered the gift of her daughter's homecoming dress to be a private moment between herself and King, who was struggling with family and sexual identity issues.
Boldrin said she wasn't concerned about her gift further inflaming problems at the school related to King's attire because she told King he couldn't wear the floor-length gown to school.
"I didn't see anything inappropriate about him enjoying that dress outside of school," Boldrin said on Friday, her second day of testimony for the defense.
Queried by Fox, Boldrin admitted that her former colleagues at the school didn't agree with her. She lost her tenured teaching position and now works as a barista at Starbucks. Fox also brought out that Boldrin suffered significant mental issues after the shooting, which occurred in her classroom.
Fox asked her if she felt guilty about King's death.
"You bet," she said after a pause. "And I have guilt over Brandon sitting there too."
Other teachers at the school testified that they were worried that King would be beaten after he began appearing at school in 4-inch-high suede boots and wearing eye makeup. Some reported their concerns to school administrators but were told that King had a civil right to dress as he pleased.