On February 12, 2008, fifteen year old Larry King was working in the computer lab of his middle school. At approximately 8:15 a.m. the defendant, classmate Brandon McInerney pulled out a 22 caliber revolver from his backpack and casually shot King in the back of the head. With the entire class looking on, McInerney calmly fired a second shot into his victim’s head, dropped the gun on the floor and walked out. He was picked up less than ten minutes later and just a few blocks from the school.
After numerous interviews and a thorough investigation it was revealed that McInerney had told one of King’s friends the day before, “say good-bye to Larry, ‘cause you’re never gonna see him again.” He also told several other people he was going to “shank” King. McInereney even attempted to recruit other classmates to kill King. It makes you wonder what King (photo right) could have possibly done to inspire such hate from his classmate. Well, wonder no more. His defense team laid it all out in their opening statement using what has sadly, become known as the gay panic defense.
This insidious defense first came to prominence in the horrific murder of Matthew Shepard back in 1998. There, Matthew’s murderers claimed that he had “put the moves on them”, made come-ons and was flirting with them. This allegedly put them in such fear that they felt that they had to murder him. They asked a jury, through their attorneys, to excuse the brutal, fierce, inhumane beating they gave him before they tied him to a barbed wire fence and left him to die alone in a field. Why? All because Matthew supposedly made some unwanted sexual advances towards them. I find this offensive on so many levels, not the least of which is the obvious lack of correlation to the rest of the population. If an unwanted sexual advance or come-on was justification for murder, than the straight male population of this world would be cut by about two thirds.
In the King case I take another exception. Gay Panic Defense? Doesn’t the very word panic infer that someone is out of control? That they are in immediate fear, they are experiencing an overwhelming terror? That’s not even close to what we have here. By all witness accounts there was no exchange, verbal or otherwise, between the two students that morning. There were threats indicative of planning and premeditation on the part of the defendant the day before. There were no allegations of physical touching by King. So what did cause this extreme reaction? This cold-blooded, calculating crime?
Words. Yes, words. King had allegedly said to McInerney “I want you to be my valentine”. King was known to wear make-up and high heels to school, which is protected behavior under California’s anti-discrimination laws. There seems to be conflicting testimony as to whether King was sexually harassing other students by speaking to them like he did McInerney. The prosecution presented several witnesses that testified they never observed such behavior from King. The defense presented a teacher who said other students told her King “followed them into the bathroom.” Either way, there were no allegations of physical advances or touching. You can’t just shoot someone in the head twice because you don’t like what they say.
Don’t get me wrong, I do feel some measure of sympathy for McInereny. He is, after all, a fourteen year old boy being tried in adult court. He is a boy with a troubled past. His mother had a criminal history and was addicted to methamphetamine. His father was a batterer who choked his wife almost unconscious after she accused him of stealing her eldest son’s ADHD medicine. This kid didn’t exactly have any role models. The police found white supremacist literature in his room. There are a whole host of reasons this kid turned out the way he did, but lets place the blame squarely where it lies and not on the victim.
One of the problems with the gay panic defense is that, besides being patently offensive and not a legal justification, it vilifies an entire segment of the our population making them out to be freakish or abnormal. This is simply not acceptable, any more than it would be to victimize the mentally challenged, or people of other races or religions and then blame them for their own victimization, inferring that they were asking for it or deserved it. Boiled down to it’s simplest and ugliest terms it is nothing more than the “they’re different from me and I’m better” attitude.
I understand the need the vigorously represent defendants in a court of law. I do. I get it. And this boy certainly needs defending, but to propound a defense that has no basis in law and is nothing more than a thinly disguised prejudice is irresponsible.
This case is a tragedy on so many different levels. Two young lives have been ruined. One taken forever, another irreparably altered.
As the jury continues to deliberate the fate of this young killer I am hopeful that while they will consider all of his issues they will flat out reject this blatant attempt to legalize prejudice.
photo: Angelina Cupcake