At the age of 14, Brandon McInerney calmly walked up to his classmate Lawrence King, pulled out a gun, and shot him dead in the middle of class (for more background on the case see here). King was gay and had made repeated advances at McInerney. King also supposedly taunted McInerney in front of his friends. McInerney admits to the shooting, but his attorneys say the unwanted advances and taunting tipped him over the edge. Yet McInerney brought a gun to school hidden in his backpack and then used it to shoot his victim point blank in the head, execution style, suggesting it was a premeditated murder.
McInerney, who is now 17, was tried as an adult. If convicted, he faced 50 years to life. Jurors were clearly uncomfortable with the prospect of sending a boy to prison for the rest of his life and the trial ended this week with a hung jury and a mistrial, according to the Ventura Star. Prosecutors are now considering whether to try him again as an adult. (If tried as a juvenile, he could be out by the age of 25).
The crime was clearly premeditated murder, not manslaughter. McInerney had even threatened to kill King and attempted to recruit other students to help him. It was also clearly a hate crime, as McInerney had proclaimed his hatred of homosexuals and King’s flirtations with him. As such, McInerney should not be allowed to walk away without serious consequences.
The problem is that he was just barely 14 when the crime occurred and he had grown up in such an abusive environment that he most likely lacked the resilience and coping skills of other teens his age. Trying him as an adult and locking him away for the rest of his life would be both cruel and excessive. Furthermore, if jurors in the first trial were not comfortable sending him away for life, chances are that trying him again as an adult would result in another mistrial.
As much as it will anger King’s family and gay rights groups to see him out on the streets again at the age of 25, it seems that the most likely way for McInerney to receive any punishment at all is to either try him as a juvenile or try him for manslaughter instead of murder. In the first trial, 7 jurors voted for manslaughter, while only 5 supported a murder conviction, suggesting that a manslaughter conviction might be more likely in a retrial.