14 year old pleads not guilty in killing of gay classmate
Here's more about the story that was featured in national newsmagazines.
The 14-year-old boy accused of killing eighth-grader Larry King pleaded not guilty Thursday to premeditated murder and a hate crime, charges his attorney said could mean dying in prison unless the youth can be tried on the lesser charge of manslaughter.
"This is essentially a death sentence for Brandon McInerney," defense attorney William "Willy" Quest said after entering a plea of not guilty for his client.
If convicted of manslaughter, McInerney would face a sentence of six to 21 years, Quest said. The murder and hate crime charges McInerney now faces require a minimum of 51 years and a maximum of life with no time off for good behavior, the lawyer said.
McInerney is accused of shooting King on Feb. 12 as students worked on English assignments in a classroom at E.O. Green School in Oxnard. The 15-year-old King died Feb. 14 after being taken off life support.
Although prosecutors have not elaborated on the hate crime charge, the Oxnard youth wore makeup and jewelry and told friends he was gay.
McInerney, who has been held in the county's juvenile hall since his arrest, wore inmates' clothing of a white T-shirt and dark pants when he appeared in the Ventura courtroom.
When Superior Court Judge Edward Brodie asked McInerney if he understood his rights, the boy answered "Yes, sir," in a strong voice.
The teenager's divorced parents, Kendra McInerney and William McInerney, sat in front of the courtroom during the brief proceeding. His mother, visibly upset as she watched her son inside the prisoners' holding area, hurried out of the courtroom. The boy's father followed. Both declined comment.
The plea came two weeks after the defense lost its challenge of a voter initiative that gave prosecutors sole discretion to file homicide charges in adult court against youths as young as 14. While that ruling is appealed, McInerney continues to face murder charges as an adult.
Brodie set a preliminary hearing for Sept. 23, a date that could be extended by 10 days, but he did not assign the case to a judge.
Assuming a judge finds enough evidence at the hearing to proceed to trial, Quest hopes the trial could begin before McInerney's 15th birthday in January.
If the case were moved to juvenile court, Quest said, he would plead to whatever charge the district attorney wants. The maximum sentence allowed in that court would be confinement in a state youth facility until age 25. Prosecutors say youths who commit homicides are typically paroled after seven years, but Quest said that is unlikely in this case.
If the case stays in adult court, McInerney's only hope is reducing the charge to manslaughter, Quest said.
"That is the only way Brandon does not die in prison," he said.
The District Attorney's Office filed the case in adult court two days after the shooting, and it reaffirmed that position Thursday.
"If we thought it was manslaughter, we would have filed it as manslaughter," Chief Assistant District Attorney James Ellison said. "We believe the crime is charged appropriately."
Ellison said prosecutors considered McInerney's age but are not disclosing why they decided to charge the 14-year-old as an adult. That would involve discussing the facts of the case before the preliminary hearing, he said.
The slain boy's father, Greg King, declined comment on the plea Thursday afternoon, but he said he supports the district attorney's decision to try McInerney for first-degree murder as an adult.
"He went into a classroom in front of other students and shot my son in the back of the head twice," King said. He suggested that the boy's age does not merit lighter treatment.
"My son his dead," he said. "For his age to be taken into consideration — he didn't take my son's age into consideration."
Quest said the shooting was a tragedy, but suggested that sending McInernery to prison for life only compounds it. He has blamed educators at E.O. Green for failing to defuse growing tension leading up to the shooting.
"This is not a complicated case, who did it and the manner of death," he said. "The issue is Brandon's age and what was going on at E.O. Green School."
McInerney feels remorse and does not understand the seriousness of what he's facing, he said.
"Going from being on the beach to being locked in a cage until he dies," Quest said. "It's hard for anyone to contemplate that, much less a 14-year-old."
McInerney is a strong candidate for rehabilitation, something that could be considered in juvenile court, Quest said.
"He was a good kid. I think he would continue to be a good kid."
A jury has the power to convict on a lesser charge of manslaughter, he said, but not if the judge gives instructions that only murder charges can be considered.
Quest returns to court Monday to seek King's records from E.O. Green School and Casa Pacifica, the children's shelter where King was staying at the time of the shooting.
How does a 14 year old put two bullets in the back of a classmate's head? And how does he not understand why he's not "on the beach?" Nice legal ploy, there.