What Went Wrong In McInerney Trial?
BY Neal Broverman
October 18 2011 4:00 AM ET
After three and a half years, observers following the case of gay California teen Lawrence King, who died after a classmate shot him twice in the head in February 2008, wanted justice — or at least resolution. They got neither when a mistrial was declared in September after a 12-person jury deadlocked on whether to convict 17-year-old Brandon McInerney of first-degree murder and hate crime charges or simply of voluntary manslaughter. Ventura County prosecutors will retry McInerney, even as Eliza Byard, the executive director of the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network, publicly pleaded with prosecutors to offer a deal with McInerney to avoid "dig[ging] into old wounds that have never been given a chance to heal."
Byard has a point, but prosecutors sound like they want a do-over; the first trial was indeed a circus. LGBT rights groups and politicians heaped blame on defense attorney Scott Wippert's “gay panic” argument, which alleged the 15-year-old King flirted with and “harassed” McInerney until he snapped. Many assumed the jurors fell for that defense when they failed to reach a unanimous decision.
But what really may have doomed the prosecution’s case is a California law that allows minors as young as 14 to be charged as adults in certain crimes. A murder conviction would net McInerney a half-century in prison for a crime he committed 19 days after turning 14 (manslaughter would bring about 20 years). While some argue he should spend his life in prison for killing King, the defense’s picture of McInerney as a tortured kid — he suffered emotional, physical, and sexual abuse at home — made conviction all the more difficult. One juror, who declined to be identified, told the Associated Press it was McInerney’s age that caused the jury to split over a specific verdict.
Lisa Bloom, a Los Angeles–based lawyer and legal analyst, spoke out several times against Wippert’s “gay panic” defense but still disagrees with McInerney being tried as an adult.
“This case was a heartbreaking intersection of our policy failures,” Bloom says. “Our lack of effort to keep guns out of the hands of angry teenagers, our failure to intervene to protect abused kids, our refusal to adequately teach tolerance and respect for LGBT kids in schools, our culture’s relentless message to boys that violence is a satisfying solution to their problems, and our willingness to then put all the blame on a child by trying him as an adult.”
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