A judge on Thursday declared a mistrial in the case of California teen accused of murdering a gay classmate at a Ventura County junior high school three years ago.
Jurors told Ventura County Superior Court Judge Charles Campbell they were unable to reach a unanimous decision on the degree of Brandon McInerney's guilt for killing 15-year-old Larry King. The nine-woman, three-man panel said they took a series of votes with the last one being seven in favor of voluntary manslaughter, while five others supported either first-degree or second-degree murder.
The panel had deliberated since last Friday. King's family declined comment as they left the courthouse.
Prosecutors now have to decide whether to re-file murder and hate crime charges against McInerney, now 17, who was tried as an adult.
Both sides in the case agreed that Brandon McInerney took a .22-caliber handgun to school on Feb. 12, 2008, and shot King twice in the back of the head during a computer lab class in front of stunned classmates.
Ventura County prosecutor Maeve Fox contended McInerney, then 14, 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 the hate-filled ideology was the reason for the killing.
Fox also argued the attack was premeditated, noting at least six people heard McInerney make threats against King in the days leading to the shooting.
She said McInerney told a psychologist hired by defense lawyers that he wanted to kill King after he passed McInerney in a school hallway and said, "What's up, baby?"
"He's basically confessed to first-degree murder in this case," Fox said during her closing argument.
Defense attorneys acknowledged McInerney was the shooter but explained that he had reached an emotional breaking point after King made repeated, unwanted sexual advances. McInerney snapped when he heard moments before the shooting that King wanted to change his name to Latisha, the lawyers said.
The defense psychologist said he was in a dissociative state -- acting without thinking -- when he pulled the trigger at E.O. Green Junior High School in Oxnard.
McInerney's lawyers also said he suffered physical abuse at home from his father, who has since died, and didn't receive the proper supervision that would have kept him out of trouble.
"He is guilty and he should be held responsible, but he is not a murderer. He is not a white supremacist," defense attorney Scott Wippert said during his closing argument. "He is a 14-year-old child who didn't know what to do and had no one to guide him."
McInerney did not take the stand during the nine-week trial.
The school administration has been accused of being more concerned about defending King's civil rights than recognizing that his behavior and what he wore -- high heels, makeup and feminine clothing -- made other students uncomfortable.
The shooting roiled gay-rights advocates and parents in Oxnard, a city about 60 miles northwest of Los Angeles. They wondered why school officials hadn't done more to stop the harassment against King by students, including McInerney.
The case labored in the court system for more than three years as McInerney's lawyers sought numerous delays. Campbell was eventually persuaded to move the trial from Ventura County to neighboring Los Angeles County because of extensive news coverage that threatened to bias jurors.
King's family sued the school district for failing to protect their son. The lawsuit is pending.
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