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Teen in gay-student slaying case agrees to 21-year prison term

November 21, 2011 |  2:49 pm

Gayshooting

This post has been corrected. See the note at the bottom for details.

The Oxnard teen who shot a gay classmate he believed was flirting with him has agreed to spend the next 21 years in prison, a plea deal that ends a case that drew national attention and ignited debate on how schools should deal with openly gay students.

Brandon McInerney, who was 14 when he pulled a gun out of his backpack and shot Larry King twice in the head in 2008, has already served nearly four years in jail and would be released by the time he is 38, under terms of the deal.

"Larry had a complicated life, but he did not deserve to be murdered," the youth's father,Greg King, said after a court hearing Monday afternoon.

McInerney’s first trial ended with jurors split between convicting him of voluntary manslaughter and first-degree murder. Several of the jurors have since spoken in favor of a plea bargain, in order to avoid a second trial.

Prosecutors, in initially deciding to try McInerney a second time, had already dropped a key allegation that the shooting was motivated by a hatred of homosexuals, an accusation that several jurors in the original trial said they did not believe.

During the first trial, prosecutors portrayed McInerney as a budding white supremacist who hated homosexuals and was enraged by King's sexuality and aggressive flirtations.

The defense argued that McInerney was the product of a violent and dysfunctional home and had reached an emotional breaking point in response to King's advances.

McInerney was 14 when he carried a .22-caliber handgun to school in a backpack on Feb. 12, 2008, took a seat behind King, 15, and shot him twice in the back of the head.

Gay rights advocates were largely silent after the mistrial. A national gay rights group later said prosecutors should have done the "just and merciful thing" and reached a plea deal in the case.

"Brandon McInerney killed Larry King and should go to jail for his crime,'' said Eliza Byard, executive director of the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network. "However, the first trial subjected everyone -- especially Larry and Brandon's peers -- to a painful spectacle that accomplished nothing."

At trial, several teachers testified that King had become increasingly bold in his behavior in the weeks before the shooting. One of the teachers, Jill Eckman, demanded that administrators do something about rising tensions but was told to teach tolerance for King's gender expression.

During closing arguments, Ventura County prosecutor Maeve Fox told jurors the case was a "tragedy on all levels" but that the evidence showed McInerney was guilty of premeditated murder.

"What possible chance did the boy have against this defendant?'' Fox asked. "He was killed by someone who was full of hatred."

In the end, seven of the jurors leaned toward voluntary manslaughter and five toward murder charges.

For the record, 4:14 p.m Nov. 21.: A previous version of this post described Brandon McInerney as a Ventura teen. He is from Oxnard.

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--Catherine Saillant

Photo: Brandon McInerney, left; and Larry King.

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