Trial of Larry King, Murdered 15-Year-Old, Ends With Hung Jury, No Verdict

The LA Times reports that “a jury has been unable to reach a verdict in the trial of Brandon McInerney, the 17-year-old accused of shooting a gay classmate to death in 2008.”

A hung jury is when the jury is unable to reach a verdict in within the specified period of time due to severe differences of opinion. It usually results in a mistrial, and can be retried at the discretion of the prosecution.

None of the facts of the killing were disputed by the defense; instead, it was argued that McInerney’s actions should be understood as precipitated by a sudden and total dissociation in reaction to King’s gender presentation, and not premeditated murder. The defense claimed that King’s interactions with McInerney constituted sexual harassment, and so while the fact that McInerney pulled the trigger and killed his classmate is indisputable (it occurred in front of over 20 witnesses — the other children they went to school with) and unjustifiable, it was allegedly out of McInerney’s full control — and definitely not premeditated.

Defense attorney Scott Wippert and co-counsel Robyn Bramson didn’t dispute that McInerney killed King. But they argued he was pushed to an emotional breaking point by King’s attentions toward him and the school’s failure to rein in King’s conduct. They also appeared to reach out for jury sympathy by calling several of McInerney’s relatives to the stand to testify to the abuse the young boy suffered at the hands of his drug-abuser father. McInerney was a boy who couldn’t cry, because if he did his father would smack him in the face and tell him to take it like a man, his aunts testified. Other family members said the father seemed to delight in humiliating his son in public. The father died from a fall while his son was incarcerated.

Wippert told jurors that his client killed King but should be found guilty of voluntary manslaughter, not murder.

The fact that the jury was unable to reach a consensus suggests that the stories presented by the defense and prosecution respectively — that McInerney was a fragile child with a history of abuse who snapped when sexually harassed by another boy, or alternately that McInerney was a popular boy whose discomfort with King’s identity caused him to torment  him, and ultimately plan and execute the other boy’s murder — were both convincing to different members of the jury. So convincing, in fact, that they were unable to be dissuaded from them by those who believed the opposite, resulting in an inconclusive and unsatisfying end to the trial for both families, and everyone following it with their hearts in their throat.

Blaming a victim — a child — for bringing about his own murder is vile, and to suggest that someone’s sexual orientation can all on its own create a situation in which murder is not okay but in some way not entirely the murderer’s fault is an absolute moral failing. Even in a courtroom, even when it’s a defense lawyer’s job to defend his client as best he can, even when that client is also a child. There is no excuse for doing those things, especially not in a courtroom where the victim’s grieving family is there to hear every word. And it is perhaps even worse, even more morally indefensible to be the one who is receptive to that argument. A hung jury in this case means that at least one person, probably more people on this jury were swayed by the defense’s argument, thought that there was at least a reasonable doubt that McInerney had plotted ahead of time to kill his classmate. Despite the fact that he had threatened to earlier; despite the fact that he had taken the step to bring a gun to school, anecdotes about King’s sexual orientation and gender presentation were enough to make them think that someone could have literally been provoked into a dissociative murderous rage. It’s enough to make you enraged yourself — or just terribly, quietly sad, grieving for the fact that one child is dead and another child’s life will be defined by having killed him and the adults involved are busy arguing about whether mascara and ankle boots made this somehow understandable. It isn’t understandable.

Yesterday afternoon the judge ordered the jury to resume deliberations; if they still cannot reach a consensus, the judge will likely declare a mistrial.

Members of the jury are supposed to be without prejudice or bias in terms of the case they rule on, acting as an impartial arm of the law. But of course no one can actually leave behind everything they believe based on the world they’ve known when they walk into the courtroom. And of course we can never actually know what went on in the jury’s deliberations. Whether it was the compelling nature of the lawyers’ presentations, the ideas that jurors brought into the courtroom about whether queer identities in schools were “predatory” or about whether children are capable of premeditated murder, or most likely a combination of both, it seems that the trial of Larry King’s killer has managed to conclude without providing any justice, validation or relief to anyone involved, and instead remains as a tragic commentary on how we’re able (or not) to deal with gender, sexual orientation, and violence when it comes to our children. Larry King remains dead, Brandon McInerney remains in a limbo between child and adult, and we remain unable to talk about what happened in a way that reflects reality, or that might keep it from happening again. This isn’t justice — not for anyone.


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Rachel

Rachel is Autostraddle's Managing Editor and the editor who presides over 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." You can follow her on twitter and instagram.

Rachel has written 1142 articles for us.

40 Comments

  1. “or just terribly, quietly sad, grieving for the fact that one child is dead and another child’s life will be defined by having killed him and the adults involved are busy arguing about whether mascara and ankle boots made this somehow understandable. It isn’t understandable.”

    Well stated. Everything about this case enrages me. The defense is disgusting, and it’s upsetting to think anyone could be swayed by it.

    I think McInerney should be tried as a minor. He was FOURTEEN. This doesn’t excuse his actions, but he did not commit the crime when he was an adult so he shouldn’t be tried as an adult.

    • “I think McInerney should be tried as a minor. He was FOURTEEN. This doesn’t excuse his actions, but he did not commit the crime when he was an adult so he shouldn’t be tried as an adult.”

      I agree completely. I wonder whether the fact that he was being tried as an adult resulted in some jurors feeling he was being unreasonably victimised and therefore reluctant to return a verdict of guilty?

      • Yeah, I was wondering that. He seems to have been an abused kid, and it bothers me to think now they’re just going to lock him up and throw away the key. And I don’t want him to get off, I just want an appropriate punishment that considers all the factors, not some draconian sentence; some jurors might have felt the same way, maybe?

        • McInerney will be 18 this January. It’s unlikely there will be another trial before then. Had he been tried as a minor and found guilty, he would have been released from the youth facility he’s been in within a couple of months and the crime wouldn’t be on his record. It’s a complex issue but given the clear premeditation of the crime and his background (some of which wasn’t allowed into testimony… he was a member of a basically white racist gang) they couldn’t allow him to get out that soon.

          I’m sure some jurors had qualms about trying him as an adult and tried to make a mitigating judgment based on that. However, what they really should have done was to recuse themselves from serving on the jury since they knew, ahead of time, that he WAS being tried as an adult. Moreover, the judge gives the jurors instructors about what they’re actually deciding. In this case, all they were really supposed to decide was: a) did McInerney do it? (which was obvious) b) was it premeditated? (which was also obvious). The jury, like it or not, can’t just throw out judges instructions because they disagree with some element of the trial… then they need to NOT be serving on that jury. I also blame the prosecutors who clearly didn’t question the jurors closely enough about their prejudices and ability to carry out the functions of this specific jury.

          • Ah, OK, that makes sense.

            I find it incredibly weird that trying McInerny as a minor would result in such an early release. Clearly, that would be inappropriate.

          • Technically, they can disregard the judge’s instructions. It’s called jury nullification (though that didn’t exactly happen here, as the jury was hung). But, lawyers aren’t allowed to advocate for nullification…

          • Also, while I generally agree with your comments on the prosecution, we have no idea what voir dire was like. It’s possible they exhausted their peremptories on potential jurors worse than those that actually ended up on the panel.

  2. The Judge has officially declared a mistrial.

    The jury was deadlocked 7-5 in favor of voluntary manslaughter over a murder charge.

    http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/lanow/2011/09/mistrial-gay-student-slaying.html

    “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, Wippert said. 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.”

    Looks like gay panic wins the day again…

  3. I cried when I read this at work, and have waited all afternoon for the story here; thank you Rachel for your insight.
    Lawrence King deserves justice. His murderer deserves help. The grown-ups and the school involved deserve a fucking wake up call. We got none of the above.

  4. By this logic I should be able to unload two into the back of the heads of all of those guys who hit on me constantly in High School, in front of the whole class, and get away with it because I’m really gay, and their straightness makes me so uncomfortable that I snap, and can no longer be held accountable for any actions, no matter how reprehensible they may be.
    But instead, I kicked one of them in the nuts and got suspended for two weeks.

    Yeah.. Really sound logic.

  5. Sooooo….basically this kid is going to get away with murder. Is that what this mistrial means? He doesn’t seem all that remorseful about it either but I’m sure that’s because it’s been drilled into his head by everyone around him that King provoked him with his gayness so it was a justified slaying and the legal system just reaffirmed it.

  6. I’m going to be honest, guys. I’m crying.

    This is so, so wrong on so many levels and I honestly can’t believe that we live in a world where we blame the murder of a child on the child himself, solely because his gender presentation differed from traditional masculinity. I can’t believe that fellow citizens of my country think it’s pardonable to murder someone because they felt uncomfortable that he was different.

    No-one should have to hide who they are for fear of being killed. Unfortunately, it looks like it’s going to be that way for a good long while in the land of the free, home of the brave. It’s becoming harder and harder not to be ashamed to be an American.

  7. I don’t even know what I’m supposed to say. I mostly feel really horribly sad and heartbroken and like I want to cry, but I can’t cry because I’m shocked that a) this happened in the first place b) “the fact that one child is dead and another child’s life will be defined by having killed him and the adults involved are busy arguing about whether mascara and ankle boots made this somehow understandable. It isn’t understandable” and c) that, like you said, some people (the MAJORITY apparently) voted in favour of voluntary manslaughter.

  8. Man, I’ve been dying over this verdict. I’ve commented a few times but I’m so upset and furious that I can barely articulate anything but, “NO! Fuck NO! Fuck this! How can they do this?!”

    This whole trial, and the media around it, has been an extended exoneration of McInerey. He had a hard life. Well, so did I. So did many of our AS readers and posters. We had really fucking hard lives. As have had so many of our brothers and sisters through the ages. For that matter, Larry King’s life was beyond hard. He was alone and he had to deal with way more than a 14-yr-old should ever have had to handle. But he did.

    And after years of torment, he used his brain and his skills to try to get McInerey just to back off. Instead of being praised for his ingenuity and mourned for the great loss he was, we’ve got all this boo-hoo crap about McInerey and his porr widdle tough upbringing.

    This was the gay panic defense in its full panoply of glory- not just in the courtroom among the jurors, but in the press, on the message boards, the offices, the schools. All anyone’s been interested in is talking about how poor widdle McInerey had such a difficult life.

    Well, boo-fucking-hoo, the next time I (don’t) kill someone in cold blood, I’ll bring up my foster childhood, being beaten daily by abusive alcoholics who had horrid non-upbringings of their own. I’m sure that if I’ve killed an effeminate gay boy, I’ll probably get off. What a relief.

    Goddamn them all to their hell forever! Dante’s Ninth Circle, stat. It is criminal, despicable, reprehensible and utterly evil to offer our effeminate gay boys as sacrifices because they’re viewed by a large majority as second-class citizens.

    I’m sorry. That’s so harsh and bitter. All I really can do is weep over this miscarriage of justice and Larry King’s lost chance at a life of his own. He was a tough kid and a smart kid, and he could have made a wonderful, successful life for himself if only he had escaped.

    Baby, I am so sorry. I wish I could have adopted you or taken you in as a foster kid. Baby, I am sorry that so far everyone seems to be worrying about your vile, callous murderer. I will do my best to make sure that people remember you, and how tough you were, how brilliant and how much promise you held. And I will fight hard to keep this from happening again.

    RIP Larry. You are beautiful. And you are loved. You shall not be forgotten.

    • It’s up to the prosecution. They can elect to retry him or they can drop the charges. In this case, I suspect they will retry as the actual commission of the murder is not in doubt. However, it’s possible they will go with a lesser charge on the retrial in an attempt to secure a conviction…

    • Actually, far more likely than even a retrial is a plea bargain where the defense, prosecution and judge come up with a sentence all three parties think is fair (or, at least, realistic). They attempted to do this before the trial but the defense was extremely insistent in going for a way lesser charge of “voluntary manslaughter” (which they will still likely go for). The penalty for that is 3, 6 or 11 years (at the judges discretion), likely minus the 3 years McInerney has already been held in the youth facility, plus time off for good behavior and he could very likely be out in a couple of years! They could try and stick on a little extra time for weapons charges but he would be almost certain to be out of the prison system for this murder/execution by the time he’s 21 (and, again, he’ll be 18 in January).

      • I don’t know… It’s true, I failed to mention the possibility of a plea, but do you really think it’s likely? The defense might think that it’s better to roll the dice with a second trial, and I’m sure the prosecution’s pride has been wounded a bit. They might not be able to offer a plea that the defense would find acceptable…

  9. I honestly am terrified by the fact that the gay panic defense was able to sway some jurors. Why does this work when a male is made to feel uncomfortable by another man when women suffer much worse day in and day out from men without having any psychological breaks? More importantly, why don’t more people care about this? All anybody could talk about a few months ago was that Casey Anthony trial even when it had no relevance to anybody, but this represents a successful use of a gay panic defense, which is a big deal. What is wrong with the U.S.?

  10. This was not bullying or teasing (not that those are excusable)- he ended another person’s life. That’s never okay. Unless his life was at stake, Brandon had no reason to end another’s life. I don’t care if he was scared or abused- that is no reason to end someone’s life. I don’t shoot my classmates because of the shit I deal with at home. If Brandon did, in fact, kill Larry due to his trauma, that’s what we call a scapegoat and, just like the Holocaust, is not okay. Yes, he was a kid, but at even the age of 5, children know that killing is not right. Unless Larry came after Brandon with a knife (which he did not), there is no excuse.

    I guess this means I can go around killing people and say it’s because I had a shitty childhood… I have people who could attest to that…

  11. Here’s a link to an article in the LA Times about what direction the retrial might take and whether they even will retry him as an adult.
    http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-gay-student-20110903,0,5433686.story

    Just to clarify, if he’s tried and convicted as a juvenile, the very longest he could potentially be kept is until he’s 24 years old (that’s usually reserved for juveniles found guilty of gang-banging). Which means that, subtracting the 3 years he’s been in juvenile custody, Brandon McInerney will almost certain be out of custody by the time he’s 21.

  12. I really am at a loss for words on this one.
    My partner and I don’t have cable and try to keep away from media as much as we can, so this is the first I’ve heard of this. Its times like these when I can’t help but truly feel empty at the thought of humanity as a whole. How could something like this happen? How can we be so morally bankrupt? Its absolutely frightening.

    ————({*})————-
    For Women.
    For the Love of Women.
    http://www.VulvaLoveLovely.com

  13. If a teen girl had been sexually harassed at a school to this degree, with the teachers doing nothing, and finally shot the guy people would applaud her. Because King was gay, they crucify the real victim.

    This is how California acts, I see. Amazing how out of step you all are with the rest of the country.

    • Wow, I wish I lived in your world! Because in the world I live in (i.e. the real world), women face similar harassment everyday, only with women there’s a greater chance that the harasser will get violent. And yet, women are still not allowed to kill these people.

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