Two Dysfunctional Boys Or A Nazi Killer and His Gay Victim
By BELINDA AND JOHN DRONKERS-LAURETA
A Crime Is Committed. . .
A boy walks into a computer class at E. O. Green Junior High in Oxnard, California, on February 12, 2008, at 8:15 AM. He sits down, pulls a 22-caliber handgun from his backpack and shoots the boy in front of him in the head. Two times. He throws the gun on the floor, walks out of the room. A few blocks from school police arrest him. The boy he shot dies the following day. The boy who shot is fourteen, the boy who is shot fifteen.
Now the matter moves from the real world to the legal world. The legal world is where we go for justice, that difficult concept associated with our sense of what is fair, where we go to balance moral scales. The trial starts on July 5, 2011, and ends in a mistrial on September 1, 2011.
. . . But What Crime?
The Ventura County prosecutor tries the 14-year old (17-year old when the trial begins) as an adult and charges him with premeditated murder and adds two enhancements: one for discharge of a firearm, another for a hate crime. Later the judge rules that the jury can also deliberate for voluntary manslaughter. The jury deadlocks: seven support voluntary manslaughter, five support premeditated murder. One juror says that the seven couldn’t get their mind around the notion that a 14-year old is as responsible for his acts, no matter how heinous, as an adult.
You know this case. The boy who pulled the trigger is Brandon McInerny, the victim is Larry King. The hate crime enhancement was added because they found Nazi paraphernalia where Brandon lived and Larry was openly gay.
How Is Justice Found?
We wonder what justice or fairness looks or feels like in this case. Brandon grew up in a totally dysfunctional family; an alcoholic father with apparently Nazi sympathies and a mother with a criminal record in drug rehab. Some of the Nazi paraphernalia found was his for a school term paper on tolerance, some belonged to his brother. From whom and from where could this boy learn about boundaries?
Larry’s father abandoned his family and at age two Larry was adopted by the King family, because his drug addicted mother could not properly care for him. At age fourteen and with a juvenile record he was placed in a group home. From whom and from where could this boy learn about boundaries? He came out when he was ten and took to wearing high heels and women’s accessories to school. He taunted Brandon, sent him valentines and told him, “Baby, I love you.”
Brandon’s lawyers used the “gay-panic” defense, a despicable tactic that should be banned. They painted Larry as a sexual predator and that Brandon eventually snapped under Larry’s repeated and unwanted sexual advances.
Some believe that the prosecutor overcharged Brandon. Had he been tried as a juvenile, he would have been found guilty, but then he would have been released at twenty-five.
Is This Case Straight Forward Or Should We Be Looking For Bigger Issues?
A young boy is dead, and there is no doubt that another boy not old enough to shave killed him. But a jury couldn’t decide what crime was committed. So, where is justice? Can it be found by just looking at the facts as the prosecutor suggested when she said to leave feelings at the door? Or is there another reason for the blindfold the lady trying to balance those scales is wearing? Many asked if this case caused so much attention because Larry is gay. Really? Is it otherwise normal when children kill? How do we teach that taunting is offensive, but that ultimate violence is not the way to respond to a taunt? But beyond those questions, how do we tackle the challenge to teach children that it is all right to be different?
Belinda and John Dronkers-Laureta are board members of Asian & Pacific Islander Family Pride www.apifamilypride.org