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The Katzwer’s Out of the Bag: An indefensible defense

Published: September 9, 2011
Section: Opinions

In 1995 it was the OJ Simpson trial. In 1996 it was the JonBenet Ramsey case. This summer it was the Casey Anthony trial. I, however, have never been very good at picking up on these sensationalist news trends and instead followed a different trial this summer: Brandon McInerney’s.

For those of you who don’t know who Brandon McInerney is, I have one word: murderer. This case is nothing like the Anthony case, which featured flimsy evidence and a boatload of reasonable doubt. This case had forensics and multiple witnesses.

Going back to Feb. 11, 2008, Brandon, a 14-year-old middle school student at the E.O. Green School in Oxnard, Calif., was being harassed, according to both the defense and witnesses, by Lawrence “Larry” King, Brandon’s 15-year-old transsexual classmate, who often came to school in girls’ clothes. Larry, who was struggling to come to terms with his sexual identity, over-displayed himself by flirting with Brandon, winking at him and propositioning him, saying things like “I know you want me” and “Love you, baby,” according to reporting in The LA Times.

Brandon couldn’t take it. The next day, Feb. 12, he came to school with a gun, sat behind Larry in class and shot him in the head. Then, standing over Larry’s prone body, Brandon fired another bullet into Larry’s head.

Larry died two days later—he never woke up.

Prosecutors charged Brandon as an adult with premeditated murder including enhancements of discharge of a firearm and a hate crime, purporting that Brandon shot Larry because of his sexual orientation. The trial began July 5, 2011, leaving 17-year-old Brandon’s life up to 12 strangers. These charges carry a minimum of 53 years in prison and a maximum of life in prison.

Before this goes too far, here’s the outcome: The judge declared a mistrial on Sept. 1 because the jury was in a deadlock.

The prosecution plans to retry the case. But seeing as how it took three and a half years to bring this trial to a jury, who knows how long this second wait will be?

Brandon’s defense was that Larry had been harassing him and bullying him and he felt that he had no other option. And I feel badly for Brandon about that. Brandon deserved a welcoming, hassle-free environment in which to learn—but that does not excuse murder.

I feel bad for Brandon—I really do. There is no worse feeling than being singled out and bullied. On Feb. 11, 2008, I would have called for Larry’s suspension or even expulsion.

But bullets are not the answer to bullying. On Feb. 12, 2008, Brandon lost my sympathy.

It’s a shame, or in Yiddish, that ever-expressive language, a shanda, that Brandon was not convicted. The state plans to retry the case, although I wonder if they are overreaching with the hate crime enhancement.

While I find hate crimes utterly despicable and support the hate crime statute, we cannot be sure that this was one. Do I think Brandon hated gay people? Yeah. Did the police find white supremacist paraphernalia in Brandon’s room? Yeah. Was Brandon being harassed, making this a personal vendetta? Yeah.

Additionally, the state is considering whether they want to retry Brandon as an adult this time.

I can be sympathetic to the fact that he was only 14 when he committed this atrocious crime. But 14 is old enough to know that murder is wrong. If you are old enough to murder someone in cold blood, you are old enough to face the consequences and spend the rest of your life in prison.

Some people argue that a mistake made at 14 shouldn’t destroy Brandon and take away his chance at living a full, rehabilitated life. There are a few problems with this though. First, it wasn’t a mistake, it was a plan—it was a different M-word.

And I understand that Brandon is young and has his whole life ahead of him, but you know who else was young and had his whole life ahead of him? Larry. You know who else could have matured with time? Larry. But he won’t get that chance.

This isn’t to say all the blame lies with Brandon. The school knew about the bullying and did nothing. The assistant principal, Joy Epstein, has been lambasted in the papers for knowing about the harassment and not stopping it. The LA Times reported that English teacher Dawn Boldrin testified, “It was reported, more than once, by more than one person. … She kept saying that she didn’t know and she did. She knew. She did. Everybody knew.”

The apparent position of the school was that rather than reprimand Larry, they felt they should nurture his sexual awakening.

Why did the school put Larry’s needs above Brandon’s? They shouldn’t have. But that was a mistake, not murder.

Is this a murky situation? Definitely. Did multiple parties’ behaviors contribute to this tragedy? Certainly. Who should take the blame and be punished? Brandon McInerney, the murderer.