Brandon McInerney Will Go to Jail for 21 Years for Killing Larry King

Back in September, when the trial of Brandon McInerney in the murder of Larry King came to a close, the jury was unable to come to a verdict. Many speculated that a significant factor in the jury’s inability to reconcile differences of opinion was due to the fact that McInerney was tried as an adult, despite the fact that his crime took place when he was 14. The jury’s unwillingness to convict McInerney may also have been influenced by the defense’s claim that childhood trauma and abuse combined with the “psychological strain” of being exposed to King, an openly gay and effeminate classmate, may have made him less than fully responsible for his actions — a version of the “gay panic defense” that Matthew Shepard’s killers attempted.  (On the other hand, the fact that at least one jury member couldn’t be convinced to acquit him may also indicate that a “gay panic defense” is less successful in today’s courtroom than McInerney’s defense might have hoped.)

A hung jury means it is possible for a retrial to occur, with the decision being up to the prosecution. Instead of waiting for a possible retrial, McInerney’s defense has opted for a plea deal. Now 17, McInerney agreed to plead guilty to second-degree and voluntary manslaughter, and will go to prison for 21 years. If McInerney had been found guilty at a second trial, he could have received a life sentence. On Monday, it seemed clear that no one wanted to see the same complicated emotional drama of the first trial play out in a second.

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,” 

It wasn’t the only new thing to come to light in the courtroom on Monday; Larry King’s mother revealed for the first time that she had contacted school officials four days earlier to ask them to “contain him, contain his behavior,” and still believes that if they had agreed to do so, he might be alive today. (The “behavior” that students and teachers testified about during the trial included “dressing in women’s accessories and wearing makeup, and was flirting aggressively with male students on campus who did not want the attention.”) At the same time, several jurors from the original trial showed up to the courtroom wearing “Save Brandon” bracelets.

McInerney will be transferred to a state prison when he turns 18 in January, and stay in jail until the age of 38. GLSEN’s statement on his plea bargain:

“The plea deal announced today ends a tragic chapter in Ventura County. Holding Brandon McInerney accountable for his actions is necessary and right, but putting him behind bars does not solve the problems that led a boy to become a bully, and then a murderer. Homophobia and transphobia, compounded by the lack of counseling and other supports for struggling young people, resulted in Larry King’s death and the effective end of Brandon McInerney’s life. As adults and as a society, we must find the resolve to fix the broken systems that lost two young lives to hate and fear. The end to this painful chapter must now serve as a new beginning. Ventura County along with communities and school districts everywhere must come together to promote a culture of respect and nurture the true potential found in every individual regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression.”

I think we were all a bit devastated in September to see a hung jury result on this trial. McInerney, motivated by homophobia and transphobia, shot a 15-year-old kid in the face in front of an entire classroom of kids — the idea that some members of the jury weren’t sure whether or not to punish this kid was appalling. It felt like a step backwards. What kind of message did that send to gay kids who feel victimized in schools or their bullies?

But GLSEN makes a crucial point: this case is about more than our desire to see McInerney behind bars or the sense of “justice” we feel now that he’s been sentenced. We put a lot of energy into talking about how to fix the societal issues that often result in violent crime, like drug abuse, racism and poverty. Homophobia and transphobia are two of those issues too, and that’s why it’s frightening how many schools actually forbid mentioning LGBT people, let alone learning about LGBT or otherwise recognizing them as part of the human race. This is why things like California’s FAIR Act matter so much. Because we’re not just trying to prevent kids like McInerney from killing or bullying kids like Larry King, we’re trying to prevent kids like McInerny to becoming “kids like McInerney” in the first place. That effort won’t start in court — it will start in the classroom, the very same place where Larry King lost his life and McInerney gave his away.

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Rachel is Autostraddle's Managing Editor and the editor who presides over books and news & politics coverage. Originally from Boston, MA, Rachel now lives in the Midwest. Topics dear to her heart include bisexuality, The X-Files and tacos. Her favorite Ciara video is probably "Ride," but if you're only going to watch one, she recommends "Like A Boy."

Rachel has written 767 articles for us.

50 Comments

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    A comment on the statement by King’s mom… they had kicked King out of the house and King was living in foster care at the time of the murder. The mom never supported the idea that she had a queer/trans child and was completely oppressive about King’s gender expression. It’s also interesting that King was diagnosed with Reactive Attachment Disorder (complete lack of bonding with parents) and I wonder how this was impacted by the way King’s parents dealt with who King was (he admitted to several friends and teachers that he ID’d with being a girl and wanted to be called Letitia). So, honestly, it’s hard for me to hear remarks from such a parent about their child postmortem. No one’s saying parenting teens is easy (I have one myself) but the bottom line is… you have to support your child for who they are.

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    “Because we’re not just trying to prevent kids like McInerney from killing or bullying kids like Larry King, we’re trying to prevent kids like McInerny to becoming “kids like McInerney” in the first place.”

    EXACTLY. another amazing article, rachel.

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    “At the same time, several jurors from the original trial showed up to the courtroom wearing “Save Brandon” bracelets” This makes me feel nauseous…

    All in all, I’m glad Brandon is serving a long sentence, even if it doesn’t do anything in bringing King back.

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      i was going to say the same thing about the bracelets. this kid brought a gun to school and shot someone in the head at point blank range in front of an entire classroom full of other people. this is inexcusable and the fact that some people didn’t think he should see any jail time…i just don’t get it.

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      I was appalled, as well. What exactly do they want to save Brandon from? The fact that actions have consequences? That murder is murder, no matter the sexuality of the victim? My god, shouldn’t they have been wearing bracelets that said “save/prevent future Larries”, instead?

      The mind – it boggles.

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        From the interviews with the jurors I have seen they don’t think he should have been tried as an adult and sentenced to life in prison. I don’t think anyone thinks what Brandon did was excusable, but coming from an abusive home with a brother associated with some sort of Aryan movement I don’t think Brandon was in his right mind. I certainly don’t think Larry was at fault but I don’t think children should be permitted to aggressively pursue other hildren in school regardless of orientation. Someone should have intervened if Larry was sexually harassing Brandon for an extended period. Again I don’t blame Larry and think Brandon needs to be punished but I think the school needs to take some responsibility.

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    I think it’s wrong to charge 14-year olds with crimes as adults, period. Even when they kill gay kids. 9th graders aren’t considered adults in any other arena, because they SHOULDN’T be. This whole story is just too sad, and the outcome is not remotely comforting to me.

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        He told other people the day before that he was going to bring a gun and shoot Larry King, and he did exactly that. That’s the very definition of first degree murder. The options if he’s tried as a juvenile are something like “stay in juvie until you’re 18, then get your record wiped clean,” which is ridiculous for a crime like this.

        So yes, it has to do with the severity of the crime.

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      I absolutely agree with this. I don’t think a 14-year-old is able to fathom what it means to take another human life the way an adult could, period. That’s true even if it’s a hate crime. What happened to Larry King is beyond sickening. There are reasons, though, that we treat children differently than adults in the legal system. We’re one of the few countries that makes exceptions for especially heinous crimes, and that makes no sense to me. If being a child makes you unable to reason like an adult, wouldn’t that mean that you were unable to grasp the heinousness of your action? By all means, Brandon should answer for his actions. But nothing he does will ever make up for what he took away. We should at least be honest about what he was and what the real sickness was (a violent culture that inculcated him with the belief that what he did was anything but a violent, heinous crime.)

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    “resulted in Larry King’s death and the effective end of Brandon McInerney’s life.”

    Also, I don’t think this statement is fair… equating King’s death with what McInerney is going through. He will be out at 38 years old (very likely considerably sooner because of prison overcrowding). He will still have the majority of his life to live, and many prisoners have gotten out of incarceration only to lead “normal” lives. So to say this is the effective end of McInerney’s life is an overly dramatic statement. I have hugely mixed feelings about the prison industrial complex, but let’s not equate that with being murdered.

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      I agree that that statement is overly dramatic and makes a massive assumption about the future of McInerney’s life, but I don’t see how it is “equating King’s death with what McInerney is going through.”

      Also, just wanna say I think this is overall a very well-written article. Thanks, Rachel.

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        I meant from the standpoint that a lot of commentators are writing about this trial from a “two boys’ lives are ruined” standpoint. I’m not minimizing what McInerney went through at home (although not nearly enough is said about how he bullied King long before the shooting and that King’s attentions to him were because King refused to be bullied). The two outcomes are in no way equivalent and shouldn’t even be contained in the same sentence. They both had incredibly difficult childhoods… but one murdered and bullied the other. One life is over while the other is postponed 12-15 years (the likely reality of what he’ll serve).

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            The state I was born and live in, much as it’s loooved the prison industrial complex in the past, is hugely strapped for money and it’s starting to impact the overbuilt prison system big time. There have been entire classes of offenders which are being released early (even prisoners with violent records). As California continues to have increasing financial problems, it’s entirely likely even persons like Brandon will not be incarcerated for their “mandatory” sentences. So no, barring him murdering someone in prison, I don’t believe for one second he really will be in prison until he’s 38.

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    From the NYT: “The defense said Mr. King had made unwanted sexual advances that humiliated Mr. McInerney and pushed him to a breaking point.”

    I mean, clearly the judge and jury didn’t buy it, and the mistrial was because they were ambivalent about sending a minor to prison for life, but it makes me angry that the defense even used that as an argument in the first trial.

    Even in the unlikely place that there *were* unwanted sexual advances, if unwanted sexual advances justified murder, every woman in the world would be off the hook for killing more than one man in her lifetime.

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      “it makes me angry that the defense even used that as an argument in the first trial.”

      Well… to be fair that was literally the only defense he had. There was zero doubt he was guilty, so the only thing the defense could do was try to evoke sympathy. It’s still disgusting, but it’s not like the defense had the option of saying nothing.

      “Even in the unlikely place that there *were* unwanted sexual advances, if unwanted sexual advances justified murder, every woman in the world would be off the hook for killing more than one man in her lifetime.”

      +1

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    Before I say this, let me state that I definitely care about Brandon McInery’s life being ruined and truly hope that he gets reform and doesn’t come out of prison as a supremacist cocaine god with a PHd in organized crime

    But can I point out that…since when does anyone actually care about the young criminal’s life being ruined?
    OH YEAH, when the victim is queer and colored and the criminal isn’t

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      “But can I point out that…since when does anyone actually care about the young criminal’s life being ruined?
      OH YEAH, when the victim is queer and [of] color[ed] and the criminal isn’t”

      This.

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          It’s okay I really didn’t want people to see that and miss the point of your quote which is something I’m just like I CANNOT BE THE ONLY ONE TO SEE/FEEL/THINK THIS!!! It’s getting tiring when I talk about this really sad I am the one to bring it up.

          I just really happy you did, I don’t feel alone and frustrated you know?

          Really thanks.

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            You’re welcome :)
            I definitely feel it.
            Just remember that when you’re the only one to bring something up… other people were thinking it and will probably back you up once they’ve seen they’re not alone (which is what you just did for me so thanks!)

            I mean, to be fair, this is Autostraddle and people are more open on here as it is not a whiteheteromale dominated… uh… society*, but even “IRL”, the same rule applies.

            *Is Autostraddle a society of its own now?

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      Actually, the reason I care about the issue of trying children as adults is because part of my family (by marrying my wife) IS queer and of color, and my brother-in-law is a young black teenager living in a gang-run neighborhood. My Black father-in-law has been in and out of prison for years on various crack-related drug offenses, so this isn’t some unaware liberal white guilt thing that causes me to have opinions about criminal justice. Laws that charge children as adult criminals disproportionately affect black males and are often tools of a racist state. It is incidental here (and just as sad) that this time they imprisoned a white male.

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        Totally agree about your concerns over trying teens as adults. But I would like to ask you… do you think the fact that Brandon was white while L. King was of color had nothing to do with many in the first jury clearly buying the “L. King sexually harassed Brandon” scenario the defense concocted? (a number of them said they believed it) Do you think there is a different standard of justice when a black youth kills a white youth from when a white youth kills a black youth? Do you think there is a different standard of justice when a non-trans person kills a trans person? Those don’t excuse the issues around trying youth as adults, but I wish some of the same effort would go into those issues of racism and cissexism as what you’re rightly discussing.

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          I don’t think that Larry not being white made the jury more likely to believe that he harrased Brandon–I think they believed that due to general homophobia. And yes, I very much agree that there is a different standard for trying people for the murder of gay and trans victims. It’s a very sad world we live in.

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    “Psychological strain” from being around a gay kid? Only because adults have been training him to find it uncomfortable his whole life.

    I appreciate the dialogue here and the article.

    The kid must have been disturbed to shoot someone at such close range, and at all. If prisons rehabilitated I’d say it could be a good thing but I don’t see what good trying a kid as an adult who’s probably barely developed the capacity to intellectually understand right from wrong is going to do. It’d be better to teach and demonstrate tolerance and send them to a juvenile center with a decent education and counseling. Sounds like an underlying emotional problem in a kid who wouldn’t have properly internalized right and wrong enough to use it to govern his actions in the first place.
    I’d love to see good food, education and healthcare (mental/ emotional included) for everyone, including in prisons.

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    I’m living in an Eastern European country who has an awesome prison system now- focus is on rehabilitation for all criminals, they can attend college and earn a degree in prison at no charge, attend vocational programs, there’s no disclosing of a minor offenses on employment applications as long as the sentence was completed fully, etc.

    I wish that he’d come out of the prison system better than he went in, but I dont think that’s going to happen in the US. :(

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    Whether or not Brandon did the crime, Larry King also played a part in this and it was him sexually harrassing Brandon! If the staff didn’t contain Larry the way they should hav, then maybe Brandon didn’t have to take care of his problem himself! Now that baby is serving a 21 year sentence for murder and it’s wrong! Yeah what he did was wrong, but lightening up the on the sentence because he was defending himself! SELF DEFENSE!

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      Um, Kia… he did murder L. King, an entire classroom of students and a teacher saw him do it. So let me ask you… is sitting at the same lunch table as someone else sexual harassment? Is telling someone you like them sexual harassment? Is waving at someone while they’re playing basketball sexual harassment? Those are all acts the defense was claiming were sexual harassment. Is being a male assigned child who experiences themselves as female and existing in the world… is that a form of harassing other people? And another question… did Brandon bully L. King? (hint: King’s best friend said he did… repeatedly).

      You’ve got some seriously ‘eff’d up values.

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        You have some nerve. You disagree with that poster so immediately you accuse them of having “eff’d up values”. That’s a very irrational reaction to have simply because some one does not agree with you. King’s best friend said King repeatedly flirted with and blew kisses to Brandon. The reality is many 14 year old boys would have a very difficult time with this. Now factor in the environment Brandon was raised in. There is no way that boy was able to process and react to what was happening. It wasn’t self-defense, he killed King. He should be punished as he is, a child from terrible circumstances, unable to understand the seriousness of what he did. This story is a tragedy for both Larry and Brandon because if the adults in their world acted responsibly we would have never heard of Larry or Brandon and they would be alive and free right now.

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      After the ridiculous statement “whether or not Brandon did the crime” I knew this was going nowhere good. I think vehement disagreement with rest of your statements has been addressed elsewhere, but seriously? The fact that Brandon killed Larry is INDISPUTABLE. And if you actually gave any thought to the boy who was murdered and read/understood anything in this article, the words self-defense would be laughable.

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    Larry’s murder is obviously the most disturbing thing about this story, and is virtually inexcusable, especially considering the blatant hate and homophobia that lead to his death. That being said, I think that both of these boys are victims. A 14 year old child lacks the capacity to understand the gravity of his actions, the permanence of death, and the sanctity of life, let alone the devastating effect that killing Larry would have on his future. Brandon’s actions represent a failure on the part of parents and educators (society at large) to take responsibility for our kids. The actions of such a young person are a direct reflection of the adults in his life. Obviously Brandon’s actions were heinous, and he should be held responsible (appropriately). But I think that charging a child as an adult (the notion that a child can SOMETIMES be an adult is ridiculous) and throwing him away to rot in the adult prison system is irresponsible and barbaric, no matter how despicable the crime, or how sympathetic the victim. What message does that send to kids about the value of youth in our society? As a queer person I resent the fact that a hate crime against a member of the lGBTQ community is being used to justify a prosecutorial “crackdown” of youth offenders. I am proud of my identity and I personally don’t want it associated with something like this. Making an example of this kid is not helping the queer community.

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    I think they did the right thing in trying him as an adult. He was 14, not four. At 14 years old, you know what’s right and whats wrong. You may not know the severity of the consequences, but you know that certain things are unacceptable.

    The fact that he planned out a murder shows that he had the mental capacity to understand what he was doing.

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    Brandon is not innocent in this situation, at all. He was 14 years old and fully capable of understanding the consequences that come with shooting a classmate at point-blank range. I think he should have been given life in prison; we all know anyone who lives their entire young adult life in a prison will not be a well adjusted member of society.

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    i don’t agree with charging children as adults. i think it’s inappropriate to treat people who are not fully grown mentally, emotionally, or physically as though they have the same capabilities as adults. i think brian’s crime was heinous and as a lesbian i fear being in the wrong place at the wrong time and being gay bashed, but if i was sitting on that jury i would not have convicted him of first degree murder either. he doesn’t have the capacity to understand the enormity and finality of his actions on an adult level, and thus his crime does not merit an adult punishment like life in prison.

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