LOS ANGELES, Calif. – A Southern California teenager pleaded guilty Monday to second-degree murder for killing a gay student during a computer lab class three years ago that will send him to prison for 21 years and avoid a retrial, authorities said.
Brandon McInerney, 17, pleaded guilty to the murder charge, as well as one count each of voluntary manslaughter and use of a firearm, said Ventura County Chief Deputy District Attorney Mike Frawley. McInerney is scheduled to be sentenced Dec. 19.
The case drew wide attention because of its shocking premise: McInerney, in a fit of homophobic rage, killed 15-year-old Larry King at E.O. Green Junior High School in Oxnard because he was offended by King’s dress and how the victim interacted with him. Comic Ellen DeGeneres, a lesbian, weighed in on her talk show shortly after the shooting and said gays shouldn’t be treated as second-class citizens.
McInerney was only 14 at the time of the February 2008 shooting. Several jurors said after the teen’s trial earlier this year that he should never have been tried as an adult.
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A mistrial was declared in September when jurors couldn’t reach a unanimous decision on the degree of guilt. The panel took a series of votes, the last one with seven jurors in favour of voluntary manslaughter and five supporting either first-degree or second-degree murder. The trial had been moved from Ventura County to Los Angeles because of pretrial publicity.
Frawley said prosecutors agreed to the plea deal because of uncertainty about what might result from a second trial.
“We took that into account and looked at what it would take to protect the community,” Frawley said. “The total time in custody for 25 years will do that.”
By pleading guilty to murder, McInerney is ineligible for time served or good behaviour, Frawley said. As part of the plea deal, McInerney will be given the harshest sentence under California law for voluntary manslaughter – 11 years – and use of a firearm – 10 years.
After serving nearly four years since King’s slaying, McInerney will be released just shy of his 39th birthday. Prosecutors had previously offered a plea deal that would have sent McInerney to prison for 25 years to life, but his attorneys passed
A phone message left with defence attorney Robyn Bramson was not immediately returned.
King was shot twice in the back of the head in front of stunned classmates. Authorities maintained the shooting was premeditated and deserving of a murder conviction. During the trial, prosecutors noted at least six people heard McInerney make threats against King in the days before the shooting.
Prosecutors also contended McInerney embraced a white supremacist philosophy that sees homosexuality as an abomination. Police found Nazi-inspired drawings and artifacts at his house, and a white supremacist expert testified at trial the hate-filled ideology was the reason for the killing.
Prosecutors, however, dropped a hate crime count against McInerney in preparing for a second trial.
Defence attorneys acknowledged McInerney was the shooter but explained he had reached an emotional breaking point after King made repeated, unwanted sexual advances. They also argued their client came from a violent upbringing and juvenile court would have been the best venue to try him.