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Larry King's slaying was not a hate crime, expert testifies

August 18, 2011 |  8:01 am

6a00d8341c630a53ef014e8abac7d5970d-200wi Despite prosecution claims, murder defendant Brandon McInerney is not a white supremacist, an expert in the field testified this week.

Prosecutors allege McInerney shot 15-year-old Oxnard classmate Larry King because he perceived King, who started wearing high heels and makeup to school, as gay and aggressively flirtatious.

But Randal Hecht, an investigator called by the defense, testified Wednesday that most white supremacists don’t have black or Latino friends, as McInerney, now 17, did. 

Prosecutors contend that a sympathy for white supremacists fueled McInerney. But in his testimony, Hecht -- a former Riverside police officer who has investigated crimes involving neo-Nazis — suggested the 2008 shooting of King in a computer  lab at E.O. Green Junior High was no hate crime.

Hecht, who delivered mostly yes-no answers in more than six hours on the witness stand, agreed with defense attorney Scott Wippert when he contended that personal conflict—not ideology—was at the heart of the slaying.

A girl in the computer lab testified earlier in the six-week trial that she was openly gay. Numerous other students in the room were black or Latino, including some who said they were friends with McInerney.

“If Brandon McInerney solely shot Larry King because of bias aagainst gays or those he perceived as gay, wouldn’t you expect him to turn the gun on Maria and shoot her?” Wippert asked.

McInerney, who used  a loaded .22-caliber gun he took from his father’s house, could have taken other weapons, including an automatic with many more rounds, Wippert said.  If he were a true believer in neo-Nazi tenets, he could have targeted the many minority students in the room, the attorney said.

Throughout the day, Wippert chipped away at the charge that his client had committed a hate crime. McInerney’s defense has centered on the physical abuse doled out by his meth-addicted father and alleged sexual harassment by King. When he pulled the trigger, a defense psychologist testified, McInerney was in a “dissociative state” and didn’t fully know what he was doing.

While investigators found books and videos on Nazism in his bedroom, the materials were used by the eighth-grader in a school report, the defense said. They were owned –- along with a Nazi Iron Cross medal –- by McInerney’s half-brother, a World War II re-enactor who played the role of an SS officer.

 Wippert also questioned whether his client was influenced by Matt Reaume, a self-professed white supremacist who lived in the boy’s Oxnard beach neighborhood and was described by a prosecution expert as McInerney’s "mentor." But most of the Nazi flags and regalia in Reaume’s home were in a closet, hidden from McInerney’s view, the attorney said.

Hecht, the expert witness on white supremacists, said McInerney’s doodling of swastikas and other Nazi symbols did not reflect an embrace of neo-Nazi beliefs.

A true believer, he said, would go to rallies, join organizations, acquire certain tattoos—and McInerney did not. In the six weeks since his trial began, one classmate described him as a white supremacist but a number of other students and teachers said they didn’t believe it.

 At Ventura County’s juvenile hall, where McInerney has resided for three years, one of his best friends is Latino.

“Would you expect someone who is a white supremacist and killed someone because of those beliefs to soon thereafter make friends with someone who is from one of the hated classes?” Wippert asked.
Prosecutor Maeve Fox is to cross-examine Hecht on Thursday.  A prosecution gang expert has already testified that, in his opinion, white supremacist beliefs helped drive McInerney to kill.

The trial is expected to end sometime next week. It was moved to Chatsworth after intense pre-trial media coverage in Ventura County.


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--Steve Chawkins

Photo: Brandon McInerney