Friday, September 2, 2011

Jury deadlocks in gay panic trial

After a closely watched trial, a jury ultimately failed to agree on whether teenager Brandon McInerney should be punished for murder in the killing of classmate Larry King. The final vote was five for murder, and seven for the lesser crime of voluntary manslaughter.

The defense had played on gay panic, blaming 15-year-old King for being too provocative. Forensic psychologist Donald Hoagland, who spent 17 hours interviewing and testing McInerney, testified that when the cross-dressing victim said, “What’s up baby” to McInerney the day before the killing, it threw the 14-year-old into a fit of homicidal rage.

Hoagland further testified that when King said he was changing his name to Leticia, that triggered a dissociative state, causing McInerney not to realize what he was doing at the time of the shooting, according to the Ventura County Star.

The fatal flaw with that theory is that McInerney made advance plans to kill King. He acquired and loaded the gun, and announced his plan to several people the day beforehand, according to testimony during the eight-week trial. He shot King twice in the back of the head during a first-period class.

The only juror to speak to the media said that what really swayed the jury was not the gay panic defense, but the fact that the defendant was only 14 years old at the time of the 2008 crime. Prosecutors repeatedly rejected widespread pleas from the public -- including from a coalition of gay and lesbian groups -- to try the boy as a juvenile. He faced 51 years to life in prison if convicted in adult court.

Enough is enough, say the editors of the Star, which has provided excellent blow-by-blow coverage of the case since the outset; the prosecution needs to be reasonable:
That division among the jurors reflects the deep divide that also exists in the community at large regarding the appropriate way to punish a boy who committed an act of horrific violence that demands severe punishment, yet who had turned 14 just two weeks before the shooting, whose home life failed to provide the support and guidance that a child needs, and who was in a turbulent situation at school where there was equally little support evident.

The District Attorney's Office could refile murder charges against Brandon, but The Star believes the wisest course of action now is to take a sufficient amount of time for a good, hard look at the case that the prosecution presented and carefully consider what the jury's reactions revealed.

For starters, this trial showed it will be hard if not impossible to convince a jury that a sentence of 50 years to life in prison — which is mandatory for a first-degree murder conviction — represents justice in this criminal case, in which the defendant was prosecuted as an adult rather than in Juvenile Court.

Related blog posts:

Gay panic defense: Slain boy accused of provocation (August 10, 2011)

Don't ban gay panic defense (August 51, 2009)

What caused middle school tragedy? (June 10, 2008)

More on the McInerney antigay murder case (June 11, 2008)

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