Image: Students gather around a makeshift memorial honoring slain student Larry King on Feb. 14, 2008
Phil McCarten  /  AP, file
Students gather around a makeshift memorial honoring slain student Larry King in Oxnard, Calif., on Feb. 14, 2008.
msnbc.com news services
updated 11/22/2011 7:32:08 AM ET 2011-11-22T12:32:08

A California teen pleaded guilty on Monday to second-degree murder for shooting to death a 15-year-old gay classmate at his middle school who he said made unwanted sexual advances.

The plea by Brandon McInerney, under an agreement with Ventura County prosecutors, brings to a close an emotionally charged case that previously resulted in a hung jury on a charge of murder with a hate crime enhancement.

McInerney, who was 14 at the time of the shooting in 2008, will be sentenced to 21 years in prison without time off for good behavior when he appears before a judge in December, prosecutors said.

Story: Gay California student’s slaying sparks outcry

The case drew wide attention because of its shocking premise: McInerney, in a fit of homophobic rage, killed classmate Larry King because he was offended by King's dress and how the victim interacted with him.

Prosecutors said McInerney, now 17, took a gun to E.O. Green Junior High School in Oxnard and sat in a computer lab with King before shooting him in the back of the head and then firing at him as he lay on the ground.

King died two days later after he was removed from life support at a local hospital.

Prosecutors initially charged McInerney as an adult and accused him of murder with hate crime and gun use enhancements, in a case that was moved to suburban Los Angeles over concerns he might not get a fair trial in Ventura County where the shooting occurred.

King, 15, was openly gay, and McInerney's attorneys argued he made sexual advances against their client.

Nazi-inspired drawings
Ventura County prosecutors said McInerney targeted King because of his sexuality and they stressed that King, far from being the aggressor, was being bullied and was 30 pounds lighter than McInerney.

Prosecutors also contended McInerney embraced a white supremacist philosophy that sees homosexuality as an abomination. Police found Nazi-inspired drawings and artifacts at his house, and a white supremacist expert testified at trial the hate-filled ideology was the reason for the killing.

After nine weeks of trial, the jury failed to agree on a verdict against McInerney, with seven voting for manslaughter and five for murder, the Ventura County District Attorney's Office said.

There was no dispute during the trial that McInerney fired the fatal shots. The judge in that trial declared a mistrial in September due to the hung jury.

'I understand the reality'
Larry King's father, Greg King, told KABC-TV he understands why prosecutors agreed to the plea deal.

"I don't think that 21-year sentence is justice for my son, but I understand the reality that was facing the DA of trying to convict a defendant who was 14 ... when he committed the murder," Greg King said.

Comic Ellen DeGeneres, a lesbian, weighed in on her talk show shortly after the shooting and said gays shouldn't be treated as second-class citizens.

Several jurors said after the teen's trial earlier this year that he should never have been tried as an adult.

The murder conviction will be stayed, and the plea deal calls for McInerney to be given the harshest sentence under California law for voluntary manslaughter — 11 years — and use of a firearm — 10 years, Ventura County Chief Deputy District Attorney Mike Frawley said. McInerney is ineligible for time served or good behavior because he pleaded guilty to murder.

After serving nearly four years since King's slaying, McInerney will be released just shy of his 39th birthday. Prosecutors had previously offered a plea deal that would have sent McInerney to prison for 25 years to life, but his attorneys passed.

Eliza Byard, executive director of the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network, said in a statement the plea agreement ends a tragic chapter.

"Ventura County along with communities and school districts everywhere must come together to promote a culture of respect and nurture the true potential found in every individual regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression," Byard said.

Violent upbringing
The victim's mother, Dawn King, revealed Monday that she had contacted school officials four days before the shooting, seeking their cooperation in toning down her son's behavior, the Los Angeles Times reported.

She said she was told that her son had a civil right to explore his sexual identity.

"I knew, gut instinct, that something serious was going to happen," she told the Times. "They should have contained him, contained his behavior."

Defense attorneys acknowledged McInerney was the shooter but explained he had reached an emotional breaking point after King made repeated, unwanted sexual advances. They also argued their client came from a violent upbringing and juvenile court would have been the best venue to try him.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

Video: Man says he was brutally beaten for being gay

  1. Closed captioning of: Man says he was brutally beaten for being gay

    >>> 13 years ago the nation was shocked and saddened by the beating death of matthew shepherd . it was husband murder that spurred the passage of hate crime lawses. sadly for many in this country, that hate has not died off as evidenced by the pictures you're about to see. we want to warn you, they are disturbing. these are pictures of burke burnett . burnett is from reno, texas , savage li burned, beaten nearly to death by three men over halloween weekend. he says they did it because he's gay. but despite the attack he is now speaking out about it. burke burnett joins me now to talk about this. appreciate you talking time to join us today. i want to start off though with -- you were at this halloween party. it's in reno, texas . you're there with friends. three men at this party find out that you're gay. explain how they found out and what hey did with that information.

    >> well, i'm openly gay . so i'm assuming -- i'm assume that they just knew i was gay from having lived in that small town themselves. their reaction to that was that that you just described. violent and hateful and horrible.

    >> what happened when this attack began? what happened with the other people at the party? how were you saved, as we say you were stabbed, as i understand it, with a broken beer bottle . obviously the men were beating and kicking you. they then threw you into a fire. explain how you were saved and also explain the attack itself, the violence and what they were yelling at you.

    >> yes, sir. they were yelling stuff that i wouldn't repeat on camera. the only reason that i did get saved is because there was a small group of females that actually jumped in and helped me out, helped save my life. they had the attackers stop and i was able to get away.

    >> burke , explain the injuries that you suffered.

    >> burns, two stab wounds. as you can see over my eye, sow sewed up. just really pretty bad stuff.

    >> as i understand it, you received over 30 stitches from the attack with the broken beer bottle .

    >> yes, sir.

    >> the burns to your body, where are they?

    >> on my arms, on both arms. i'm kind of wrapped up so you can't see them. but on both my arms. on my rib cage right here, and then a few on my head, on my forehead.

    >> burke , beyond the fact that the three men are now charge with aggravated assault, arrested in this case. the police, the da haven't said too much about this. they're saying that it's going to be up to a grand jury to decide whether they prosecute this as hate crime . as i understand it, under texas law, hate crime enhancement could result in the charges being bumped up from the second degree felonies to first degree felonies, punishable by 5 to 99 years in prison. do you personally want to see them push for this to be considered a hate crime ?

    >> it's -- it's not my job to decide whether or not what justice is exactly for these guys. i want to see justice served. i have every faith in the county district attorney's office that they will handle it properly.

    >> burke , how has suffering this attack, what you've gone through and the recovery, how do you think it's changed you?

    >> it's made me more aware that this kind of -- this kind of stuff still goes on. i guess i sort of forgot that there was still that much hatred, that much animosity towards the gay and lesbian population. i didn't -- i didn't realize that. so it's certainly heightened my awareness that this type of stuff still goes on.

    >> burke burnett , we wish you the very best and a speedy recovery. and we appreciate you taking the time and the courage that you have to speak out about this and hopefully it's going to raise the dialogue and maybe shed some light on intolerance around this country. burke , thanks so much. appreciate it.

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