June 11, 2008

More on the McInerney antigay murder case

Defense may use emerging science of adolescent brain development

Greg Herek, a prominent scholar in the field of prejudice studies, wrote a good summary today about the case of 14-year old Brandon McInerney. As I noted yesterday, the 14-year-old will be arraigned Thursday on charges of murdering his gay classmate, 15-year-old Lawrence King.

Herek's post, which you can read at the UC Davis researcher's "Beyond Homophobia" blog, mentions the possibility of a defense based on emerging neuroscience technology, suggesting that the adolescent brain is not fully developed.

McInerney's attorney, Ventura County Public Defender William Quest, has said he will do everything he can to invoke the science of the developing brain at McInerney's trial. Quest maintains that immature brain development might mitigate the intent to kill.

"The crux of homicide is you have this intent to kill. It's thought out and coherent. If there is something that, given your brain development, puts you in a state that is not coherent, it mitigates that intent," he is quoted in the Ventura County Star as saying.

Quest may have a tough time convincing jurors that McInerney did not form the legally required intent to kill, in that the Young Marines member brought a gun to school and shot Lawrence King not once but twice in the head.

If a neuroscience defense emerges as a centerpiece of the nationally publicized case, it will likely draw attention to the current conflict in the field over whether the budding science is well enough established for the courtroom. (For more on that debate, see the Law & Neuroscience Project website and the Law and Ethics of Brain Scanning resources brought to you by the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at the University of Arizona.)

That controversy aside, it will be good news if Quest backs away from his earlier focus on blaming the school for the tragedy. Quest had publicly stated that administrators of the middle school where the killing took place were partly responsible because they allowed the victim to openly display his gender nonconformity.

Tom Kisken of the Ventura County Star has a lengthy summary of the neuroscience debate as it pertains to McInerney's case, available online here. Greg Herek's blog post is here.

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