Murder of Larry King
The murder of Larry King refers to the February 12, 2008, shooting death of Lawrence "Larry" Fobes King (January 13, 1993 – February 13, 2008), a 15-year-old transgender student at E.O. Green Junior High School in Oxnard, California, United States. He was shot twice by a fellow student, 14-year-old Brandon McInerney, and kept on life support until he died two days later.
Newsweek described the shooting as "the most prominent gay-bias crime since the 1998 murder of Matthew Shepard", bringing attention to issues of gun violence as well as gender expression and sexual identity of teenagers.
Following many delays and a change of venue, McInerney's first trial began on July 5, 2011, in the Los Angeles district of Chatsworth. That trial ended on September 1, 2011 when the judge, Charles Campbell, declared a mistrial due to the jury being unable to reach a unanimous verdict. Prosecutors decided to seek a second trial, but dropped the hate crime charge.
On November 21, 2011, McInerney pleaded guilty to second degree murder, voluntary manslaughter and use of a gun. The plea carries a sentence of 21 years imprisonment without time off for good behavior, and avoided the scheduled retrial. He was sentenced on December 19, 2011.
Lawrence Fobes "Larry" King was born on January 13, 1993 at the Ventura County Medical Center in Ventura, California. King was adopted at age two by Gregory and Dawn King. His biological father had abandoned his wife, and his mother was a drug addict who failed to care for her son properly. King was prescribed medication for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and according to Gregory King, Larry had been diagnosed with reactive attachment disorder, a condition in which a child fails to develop relationships with his or her caregivers. He was also forced to repeat the first grade of schooling. By the third grade, King began to be bullied by his fellow students due to his effeminacy and openness about being gay, having come out at ten years old.
At the age of twelve, King was placed on probation for theft and vandalism. In November 2007, he was removed from his adoptive home and placed in a group home and treatment center named Casa Pacifica after he alleged that his adoptive father was physically abusing him, a charge Gregory King denied.
The bullying continued when King transferred to E.O. Green Junior High School in the seventh grade, and intensified when he began attending school wearing women's accessories and clothing, high heels and makeup in January 2008. Larry then also changed his name to Letisha, and sometimes Latoya, and according to his closest friends identified as transgender. King's younger brother Rocky also suffered bullying because of Larry's appearance. The school could not legally stop King from dressing as such because of a California anti-discrimination law that prevents gender discrimination, although teachers at the school thought that his clothing was clearly in violation of school code, which prevents students from wearing clothing considered distracting. The school issued a formal notice to every teacher on January 29, 2008 via email. Written by eighth-grade assistant principal Sue Parsons, it read, in part:
We have a student on campus who has chosen to express his sexuality by wearing make-up. It is his right to do so. Some kids are finding it amusing, others are bothered by it. As long as it does not cause classroom disruptions he is within his rights. We are asking that you talk to your students about being civil and non-judgmental. They don't have to like it but they need to give him his space. We are also asking you to watch for possible problems. If you wish to talk further about it please see me or Joy Epstein.
Joy Epstein was one of the school's assistant principals, and also openly lesbian. Several teachers, and King's father, accused Epstein of encouraging Larry's flamboyance as part of her "political agenda." King also taunted boys in the halls, saying "I know you want me" and was known to make inappropriate comments to boys while they were changing for P.E. class. However, prosecuting attorneys filed court documents that stated King was not sexually harassing other students in the weeks before the shooting. McInerney and King had been in several verbal altercations described as "acrimonious" by the prosecutor.
Brandon David McInerney was born on January 24, 1994 in Ventura, California. His mother Kendra had a criminal history and was addicted to methamphetamine. In 1993, Kendra accused her husband William of shooting her in the arm with a .45-caliber pistol. In another incident, William McInerney choked his wife almost to unconsciousness after she accused him of stealing ADHD medication from her older son. He pleaded no contest and served ten days in jail and 36 months probation on a charge of domestic violence. Between August 2000 and February 2001, William McInerney had contacted Child Protective Services at least five times about concerns of his son living with his mother. In 2001, he filed a restraining order against Kendra, and in 2004, Brandon was placed in the custody of his father, as his mother had entered a drug rehabilitation program.
In July 2008, Newsweek reported that a day or two before the shooting, King walked onto the basketball court in the middle of a game and asked McInerney to be his Valentine in front of the team who then made fun of McInerney. Just after lunchtime on February 11, King passed McInerney in a corridor and called out, "Love you baby". Later that day King was seen "parading" back and forth in high-heeled boots and makeup in front of McInerney. According to a teacher, a group of boys were laughing at McInerney who was getting visibly upset and assistant principal Joy Epstein, noticing McInerney's reaction, wagged her finger at him. When McInerney endured teasing because of the incident, he attempted to recruit other students to assault King but no one expressed interest. He then told one of King's friends to say goodbye to him "because she would never see him [King] again".
On the morning of February 12, 2008, McInerney was witnessed repeatedly looking at King during a class in a computer laboratory. At approximately 8:15 a.m local time, McInerney drew from his backpack a .22-caliber revolver belonging to relatives and shot King twice in the back of the head. Following the shooting, McInerney tossed the handgun on the floor and walked from the classroom. He was apprehended by police about seven minutes later and five blocks away from the school campus.
King was transported to St. John's Regional Medical Center where he was listed in serious condition. He was declared brain dead on February 13 but was kept on life support for two days so that his organs could be donated.
Since McInerney has refused to speak to investigators, the motive for the shooting remains unclear. According to Police Chief John Crombach, "It's pretty clear our suspect was focused on his victim and what he planned to do".
Vigils and marches were organized across the United States following King's death. Sympathies for King have been expressed by numerous people including Judy Shepard, Human Rights Campaign president Joe Solmonese, Senator Hillary Clinton and television host Ellen DeGeneres. A thousand students in the Hueneme School District, where E.O. Green is located, marched to pay tribute to King on February 16, 2008, four days after the shooting.
A new diversity education bill was introduced on behalf of King by California Assemblyperson Mike Eng, saying, "We need to teach young people that there's a curriculum called tolerance education that should be in every school. We should teach young people that diversity is not something to be assaulted, but diversity is something that needs to be embraced because diversity makes California the great state that it is." The bill would require mandatory classes on diversity and tolerance in California school districts.
A local vigil in Ventura, California was organized one year after King's death. The Day of Silence for 2008, which is intended to protest LGBT harassment and occurred on April 25, was specially dedicated to King. King's father Greg is unconvinced his adoptive son was gay as Larry had only recently told him that he was actually bisexual. Greg believes that Larry was sexually harassing McInerney, and has expressed concern that Larry is being made a poster child for gay rights issues.
Teachers also showed sympathy for McInerney. "We failed Brandon," a teacher said. "We didn't know the bullying was coming from the other side—Larry was pushing as hard as he could, because he liked the attention." Hundreds of children from the school have signed a petition requesting that McInerney be tried as a juvenile.
Criticism of the school
In August 2008, King's family filed a claim against E.O. Green Junior High School at Ventura County Superior Court, alleging that the school's allowing King to wear makeup and feminine clothing was a factor leading to his death. According to the California Attorney General's Office, however, the school could not legally have stopped King from wearing girls' clothes because state law prevents gender discrimination.
According to a Newsweek article published on July 19, 2008, some teachers at E.O. Green also allege that assistant principal Joy Epstein was "encouraging King's flamboyance to help further an 'agenda' ". When Epstein was later promoted to principal at another local public school, King's father described it as a "slap in the face of my family". The superintendent, Jerry Dannenberg, stated that the promotion was given because "she was the most qualified person for the new principal job".
Pretrial legal proceedings
In February 2008, McInerney's lawyer, William Quest, was considering a change of venue. On July 24, 2008, Judge Douglas Daily of the Ventura County Superior Court ruled that McInerney would stand trial as an adult, with the decision being appealed.
On August 7, 2008, in the same court, McInerney pleaded not guilty to premeditated murder and a hate crime. A preliminary hearing was set for September 23, 2008, which had been rescheduled for October 14, 2008.
On September 23, 2008, the court appointed Willard Wiksell, a lawyer from Ventura, guardian ad litem for McInerney. Previously, McInerney's family took steps to fire his lawyer, William Quest, of the Public Defenders Office and hire the United Defense Group, a criminal defense law firm from Los Angeles. However, the Public Defenders Office filed a petition stating that the United Defense Group might not have McInerney's best interests in mind.
On October 14, 2008, after the court received a report from the appointed guardian ad litem, and the court determined that the defendant had not been coerced into changing representation and knew what he was doing, the Ventura County Superior Court allowed McInerney to fire his Public Defender, William Quest, and the Public Defenders Office, and hire the United Defense Group together with attorney Robyn Bramson as his attorneys. The court also denied a motion to gag the defendant's former representatives from the Public Defenders Office from speaking about the case, especially to the media.
On December 8, 2008, Ventura County Superior Court ruled that McInerney, after being evaluated by a psychiatrist and a psychologist, was competent to stand trial. That same day, Scott S. Wippert, of the United Defense Group, filed a legal motion for discovery, asking the court to order the district attorney to provide documents to uncover whether prosecutors exercised discretion in sending McInerney's case to the adult court system. On December 29, 2008, Judge Rebecca Riley denied the motion, stating that there was no evidence of abuse of discretion in transferring McInerney from juvenile to adult court.
On January 26, 2009, the preliminary hearing was postponed until March 17, to give McInerney's lawyers time to appeal Judge Riley's rejection of the December motion for discovery. On March 18, 2009, the hearing was once again postponed, when William McInerney, the father of Brandon, was found dead in his living room in the Silver Strand area near Oxnard after he sustained an accidental head injury from a fall. Brandon McInerney was granted Judge Riley's permission to leave the juvenile detention facility and attend his father's funeral.
On August 27, 2009, at his arraignment in Ventura County Superior Court, McInerney pleaded not guilty to all charges. The judge, Bruce Young, set the pretrial hearing date for October 23, 2009, and a trial start date for December 1, 2009.
On September 1, 2009, Ventura County Superior Court Judge Kevin DeNoce ruled that the addition of a lying-in-wait allegation to the list of charges was acceptable. The addition of this allegation would automatically mean that the case must be heard in an adult court. The addition was petitioned, and in November the Ventura 2nd District Appellate Court denied the request to overturn the earlier ruling, finding that the District Attorney’s Office did not act vindictively in adding the lying-in-wait allegation to the murder charge.
On January 21, 2010, the State Supreme Court rejected the petition to overturn the earlier ruling by the Ventura County Superior Court judge.
After a postponement from May 14, 2010, McInerney’s trial was set to commence on July 14, 2010, in Ventura County Superior Court, but was again postponed. A hearing was slated for April 4, 2011, to determine whether McInerney's attorneys would be ready for a trial beginning on May 2. Previous postponements followed motions from defense attorneys requesting recusal of the district attorney, a change of venue, and more time for fact-finding. In August 2010, Ventura County Superior Court Judge Charles Campbell ruled that the trial would proceed in Ventura County with jurors selected from Santa Barbara County On December 6, 2010, Campbell denied the motion for recusal.
A California appeals court affirmed on May 5, 2011, that the juvenile records of the victim, Lawrence King, will remain sealed after a lower court refused the request of the McInerney defense team for the records.
After multiple delays, the trial began on July 5, 2011, with a change of venue to Chatsworth, Los Angeles, California. Multiple previously scheduled dates were bypassed for various reasons, and plans or requests to move the venue or use jurors from other locations in California were not realized.
On the first day of trial, the half brother of McInerney, James Bing, was admonished by Judge Campbell because it was overheard that Bing went to the jury outside of the courtroom and addressed them. He said: "The fate of my brother is in your hands." Bing was then banned from the courtroom unless summoned to testify. The prosecutor depicted McInerney as a popular teenager, who was skilled in martial arts and firing guns as well as being a white supremacist. She went on to describe King as a small guy who had often been picked on, saying that King wore high-heeled boots, makeup and jewelry along with his school uniform to school. Scott Wippert, McInerney's attorney described King as the aggressor, saying he often was sexually aggressive and often made inappropriate remarks, provoking McInerney.
Witnesses who were students and classmates of McInerney testified on July 7, 2011. One witness said that King told her he had changed his name to Leticia. Another witness said many students made fun of King and called him offensive names behind his back when he came to school wearing makeup and jewelry. A few of the witnesses said that they never noticed King making sexual advances toward other students but that sexual comments he made was "just messing" with McInerney.
The former vice principal of E.O. Green School, Joy Epstein testified on July 11, 2011. She said she had discussed King's behavior with other school officials of the school district and they decided it was according to the constitutional rights, legitimate for King to wear what he wanted unless it violated the school dress code. Joy Epstein said high-heeled boots, makeup and jewelry were all allowed according to the Oxnard school dress policy. She said another administrator within the district said that the school must protect the students civil and equal rights. Another teacher testified that pupils had told her King would seek them out and follow them into the bathroom, behavior she considered to be sexual harassment. She was told by Epstein the school could do nothing about the behavior.
On July 22, 2011, the jury was shown footage of a video in which McInerney was fighting in the Ventura County Juvenile hall, where he currently lives. One of the corrections officers, testified that the defendant was a "good kid" in the honors program for good behavior and had relationships with people of different backgrounds and origins. He said that within the juvenile hall environment fighting was a routine occurrence and that McInerney was not prone to violence as the prosecution alleged.
Dawn Boldrin, an English teacher had testified and said she counseled King and told him he should not wear attention-getting clothing if he did not want to receive negative attention. She also gave the teen, who was exploring his sexual and/or gender identity, a strapless, green, chiffon gown. She meant for him to wear it outside school. A photo was shown of Larry King holding up the dress and many people in the courtroom were crying. Greg King, Larry's father became upset and gathered his family to leave, but before doing so, Dawn King, Larry's mother, swore at Boldrin's 13-year old daughter and a relative. The judge later barred Dawn King from the remainder of the trial. Because the school administrators were allowing King to wear whatever he wanted as long as it did not violate the dress code, the defense was arguing that this allowed King to sexually harass McInerney.
The trial ended without a verdict and was declared a mistrial by the judge, Ventura County Superior Court Judge Charles Campbell, on Thursday, September 1, 2011, after the jury reported that they were hopelessly deadlocked and unable to reach a unanimous verdict. There were eight weeks of testimony with almost 100 witnesses, and the jury had been deliberating since August 26, 2011. The jury had taken four votes and the last vote was split between seven jurors voting for voluntary manslaughter and five jurors voting for either first-degree or second-degree murder.
On September 2, 2011, the district attorney's office announced that they intended to retry McInerney, and a hearing was scheduled for October 5, 2011. For the second trial, the prosecutors dropped the hate crime charge.
On November 21, 2011 McInerney pleaded guilty to second-degree murder, voluntary manslaughter and use of a firearm. He will receive 21 years behind bars, with no credit given for time served prior to the trial and no credit will be given for good behavior. He will initially serve his sentence in a juvenile facility and then be transferred to prison upon turning 18.
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- Lawrence King Memorial
- Public Service Announcement sponsored by GLSEN and Logo, in the wake of Lawrence King Tragedy
- E.O. Green Junior High School website