Teen uses ‘gay panic’ defense in slaying of California student

Lisa Neff, Staff writer

Students across the United States are returning to classrooms for the 2011-12 school year. But not Lawrence King or Brandon McInerney.

King is dead, shot twice in the back of the head in his middle school computer lab at the age of 15.

King’s accused teenage murderer, McInerney, spent his summer on trial in a Los Angeles County courtroom. He likely will spend the 2011-12 school year – and many more years – in prison.

The shooting took place Feb. 12, 2008, at E.O. Green Junior High in Oxnard, Calif. McInerney, now 17, was 14.

Charged with first-degree murder and a hate crime, McInerney went on trial in early July.

The defense does not deny McInerney shot his classmate. Rather, the defense maintains that McInerney snapped over King’s frequent and public romantic advances, which the defense says constitute sexual harassment.

Prosecutor Maeve Fox has argued that McInerney was a budding white supremacist and partly motivated by a hatred of gays.

As evidence, the prosecutor presented McInerney’s school notebooks, in which he drew several swastikas and an “SSL” insignia, said to be an acronym for a white supremacist gang.

A detective who testified for the prosecution said that two nights before the shooting McInerney had stayed overnight at a prominent Ventura County white supremacist’s home.

McInerney’s brother, testifying for the defense, said they grew up in a troubled home and that McInerney was verbally and physically abused as a child.

The defense also called McInerney’s friends and teachers, who took the stand to say that King, frequently described as flamboyant, taunted other boys and watched them in the locker room.

In the fifth week of the trial, a psychologist for the defense, Douglas Hoagland, testified that McInerney “snapped” and went into a “dissociative state” when he killed King.

He said McInerney told him that he was disturbed by King, who in front of other students had asked him to be his Valentine. On Feb. 11, 2008, McInerney told Hoagland that King passed him in the hall and said, “What’s up, baby?”

McInerney, according to Hoagland, considered that question as a “super-disgusting” come-on, and the more he thought of King, the more he wanted to kill the other student.

The next day, McInerney went to school with his father’s .22-caliber revolver.

Hoagland said McInerney told him he was reconsidering killing King until he heard the boy tell another student he was changing his name to “Leticia.”

“He snapped,” Hoagland testified, maintaining that McInerney’s rage was brought on by the verbal and physical abuse as a child.

“He acted without thinking. He was not aware of what he was doing,” the psychologist said.

Closing arguments were expected to take place this week, as WiG went to press.

If convicted of first-degree murder, McInerney could go to prison for 53 years to life. If the defense is persuasive, McInerney may be convicted of voluntary manslaughter, which could result in a 21-year sentence.

“Whatever happens in this trial, two young lives have been lost to homophobia,” said Eliza Byard of the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network. “One young person is dead and another gave up his future by murdering a classmate so no one would say he was gay.”