The trial of a middle school student who shot and killed a gay classmate during a morning computer lab ended in a mistrial Thursday when jurors said that after 17 hours of deliberations they could not agree whether to convict Brandon McInerney.
Jurors deadlocked 7 to 5 in favor of voluntary manslaughter in the emotional two-month trial in which the unstable backgrounds of the two boys and the actions of school officials in the weeks leading up to the stunning 2008 shooting inside an Oxnard classroom were laid bare.
McInerney sat stiffly and silently at the defense table as Ventura County Judge Charles Campbell declared a mistrial. His mother, Kendra McInerney, sobbed into her hands. The parents of victim Larry King, Greg and Dawn King, stormed from the courtroom with other relatives, even as the judge was still addressing the jurors.
Outside the Chatsworth court building, defense attorney Scott Wippert said his client was disappointed by the mistrial because his fate was left hanging. Prosecutors probably won't announce until next month whether they will try the 17-year-old a second time, and whether he again will be tried as an adult.
McInerney was 14 when he walked into a morning computer lab at E.O. Green Junior High, pulled a .22-caliber handgun from his backpack, put the gun to Larry King's head and pulled the trigger twice. King was 15.
But jurors universally rejected the prosecution's contention that the shooting was a hate crime carried out by a youth filled with white supremacist beliefs and a hatred for homosexuals, Wippertsaid.
He said jurors told him that it had been an emotionally raw and gut-wrenching case and that, in the end, they couldn't agree on a conviction.
Prosecutors declined to comment, as did jurors.
"He made this horrible decision at such a young age," Robyn Bramson, another defense attorney, said outside the courthouse. "He's going to be locked up for a very, very long time and I want him to have a date on the calendar when he can get out."
During the trial, McInerney's attorneys presented what prosecutors called a "gay panic" defense, arguing that the teenager was driven to violence by King's repeated sexual taunts.
They also called to the stand teachers who testified that campus administrators turned a blind eye to the tensions King was creating on campus with his flamboyant dress and behavior. In the months before the shooting, King began wearing makeup and women's spike-heeled boots and seemed to relish making boys squirm with comments such as "I know you want me," teachers said.
Prosecutor Maeve Fox described McInerney as a bright boy from a broken, violent home who knew what he was doing when he brought the gun to school on Feb. 12, 2008.
McInerney was upset that King had come up to him at school the day before and said, "What's up, baby?" Fox said. He told a defense psychologist that he found King's attentions "disgusting" and "humiliating" and that King would have to pay for it.
The teen also told a school friend that he was going to bring a gun to school the next day, which he did, Fox said.
The defense reached for jury sympathy by calling relatives to testify to the abuse McInerney routinely suffered at the hands of his father, a drug abuser. McInerney was a boy who couldn't cry, because if he did his father would smack him in the face, his aunts testified.
School was no longer McInerney's safe zone, defense attorneys said, because administrators were refusing to do anything about King's unwanted attentions.
"Use your common sense, use your heart, use your soul," Wippert told the jurors before they began deliberating. "Remember this is a 14-year-old child, and you're going to do what's right."
After the mistrial was declared and jurors left the room, McInerney turned and smiled at his family. When he spotted his former girlfriend, Samantha Cline, sitting in a back row, he threw her a kiss.
And then he was taken away by sheriff's deputies.
Los Angeles Times staff writer Steve Chawkins contributed to this report.