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Prosecutors vow to retry teen who killed gay classmate

Dawn King

Prosecutors vowed Friday to immediately retry an Oxnard middle school student who shot a gay classmate, maintaining that the incident was a premeditated murder and a hate crime despite doubts by some jurors in the initial trial, which ended with a hung jury and a mistrial.

However, Ventura County prosecutors said they are considering whether to again try Brandon McInerney as an adult -- a choice that legal experts believe made it harder for them to win a conviction.

McInerney, who was 14 at the time of the killing, would face up to life in prison if convicted as an adult. In the juvenile system, even convicted murderers are typically released at age 25.

"We will consider the fact that this was a very significantly split jury. We will consider everything," said Chief Asst. Dist. Atty. Jim Ellison. "There are obviously very strong reactions on both sides, and we will consider all those in how we proceed."

Jurors on Thursday said they were deadlocked on a verdict, with seven favoring a voluntary-manslaughter conviction and five pushing for first- or second-degree murder. The jurors, who have not spoken to the media about the deliberations, told defense attorneys that they did not believe the killing amounted to a hate crime.

Prosecutors on Friday disagreed and said they continue to believe the killing was motivated by victim Larry King's sexual preference. They also said they believe that McInerney was lying in wait to kill King, an allegation that automatically qualifies him to be tried as an adult, Ellison said.

Laurie Levenson, a Loyola law professor and former federal prosecutor, said it was possible that jurors thought the charges were too harsh.

"Jurors felt prosecutors overcharged, and they were clearly not comfortable putting the boy away for life. They probably believed the dynamic between two adolescent boys is not the same as two adults,"  Levenson said. "With a hate crime, there is usually an agenda to go after a whole group, and this case as presented was a very personal. This was a shooting but not a traditional cold-blooded killing. It had an emotional complexity, especially one associated with adolescents.”

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-- Catherine Saillant in Ventura County and Richard Winton in Los Angeles

Photo: Dawn King, mother of victim Larry King, leaves the courthouse after the jury deadlocked Thursday. Credit: Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times

 
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