VENTURA, Calif. — Brandon McInerney was sentenced Monday to 21 years in state prison for the execution style killing of openly gay classmate Lawrence King during a computer lab class three years ago.
McInerney, 17, did not speak at the hearing, but his attorney Scott Wippert said his client was sorry for killing King, 15.
“He feels deeply remorseful and stated repeatedly if he could go back and take back what he did he would do it in a heartbeat, Wippert said.
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The family of Lawrence King said in court that they could not forgive their son’s killer.
“You took upon yourself to be a bully and to hate a smaller kid, wanting to be the big man on campus,” King’s father, Greg King, said on behalf of his wife. “You have left a big hole in my heart where Larry was and it can never be filled.”
In a deal reached with Ventura County prosecutors last month, McInerney agreed to avoid a retrial and to plead guilty to second-degree murder, as well as one count each of voluntary manslaughter and use of a firearm. A mistrial was declared in September when jurors couldn’t reach a unanimous decision on the degree of guilt.
Several jurors, in interviews with the media after McInerney’s trial, said that he shouldn’t have been tried as an adult.
Teachers and students saw a dispute growing between King and McInerney leading up to the February 2008 killing, which culminated in McInerney shooting King twice in the head in a computer lab at E.O Green Junior High School.
McInerney, then 14, had reached an emotional breaking point after King made repeated, unwanted sexual advances toward him and other boys, defense lawyers claimed.
The case drew widespread attention and raised questions about how schools should deal with students and sexual identity issues.
Talk show host Ellen DeGeneres, who is openly lesbian, weighed in on her television show shortly after the shooting, telling her audience that LGBTQ persons shouldn’t be treated as second-class citizens.
Because of pre-trial publicity, the trial was moved from Ventura County to Chatsworth in the San Fernando Valley section of Los Angeles.
Ventura County Prosecutors said the shooting was first-degree murder and that McInerney should be punished as an adult.
They argued the shooting was a hate crime, an aspect jurors rejected, after authorities found white supremacist materials in his home.
Defense attorneys, who unsuccessfully argued to keep the case in juvenile court, said it was voluntary manslaughter because McInerney lost control of his emotions. They said the teen was beaten by his father and was described as a bright student who lost his motivation.
King’s father also blamed the school district for not doing more to address the brewing feud between the two teens and their son’s flamboyant behavior.
“Instead of protecting him from himself and his poor impulse control, they enabled and encouraged him to become more and more provocative,” Greg King said.
During the sentencing hearing, King’s family and Ventura County Deputy District Attorney Maeve Fox wore buttons with the teen’s face on it, while some of McInerney’s supporters wore powder blue wristbands that read “Save Brandon.”
After serving nearly four years since the murder and with the additional 21 years handed down Monday, McInerney will be released just before his 39th birthday. His murder conviction was stayed, and the plea deal agreed to after the mistrial called for him to be given the maximum sentence under California law for voluntary manslaughter — 11 years — and use of a firearm — 10 years, Fox said.