Friday, September 2, 2011

Mistrial Declared In McInerney Trial

The weeks-long trial of Brandon McInerney, the killer of gay student Lawrence King, has ended in a hung jury, resulting in a mistrial.  This development comes after repeated attempts on the part of the defense to confuse the jury as to McInerney's intent (or lack thereof) in the murder, which appears to have worked.

The defense spent a large portion of the proceedings painting Lawrence King as a sexual predator who harassed McInerney, casting doubt as to whether it was a crime of passion or premeditated murder.  McInerney was charged with first degree murder, implicit in which is premeditation.

Bloggers and pundits in the LGBT community are largely reacting with outrage.  Witness accounts clearly testified that McInerney had stated to classmates that he intended to kill King, supporting the position that crime was planned carefully beforehand.  The mistrial has raised one question: what the hell was the jury thinking?  From Bilerico:

My guess as to the likely reason that the jury could not reach a verdict is that there was disagreement as to whether McInerney acted in the "heat of passion." The other potential interpretations don't make any sense. The "heat of passion" defense, when the "passion" offered is that the victim was gay or transgender, is what we colloquially know as the "gay panic" defense, or "trans panic" defense. (Although there is some evidence that King was questioning his gender identity and even referred to himself by a female name at times, the crux of the defense is based on alleged sexual advances and McInerney's homophobia, and so I refer to the defense employed here as a "gay panic" defense rather than a "trans panic" defense.)
The charge against McInerney was first degree murder. The definition of first degree murder in California law is the unlawful killing of a human being, or a fetus, with malice aforethought. "Malice aforethought" essentially means, in this context, that the defendant formed the intent to kill prior to the act that caused death. First degree murder is punishable by death (not applicable here due to McInerney's age), imprisonment in the state prison for life without the possibility of parole, or imprisonment in the state prison for a term of 25 years to life, depending on aggravating or mitigating circumstances. (If the crime was committed because of the actual or perceived sexual orientation of the victim, then the minimum punishment is life imprisonment without parole.)
So what's next for McInerney?  Either he faces a retrial or the prosecution may reach a plea deal with McInerney's defense team.  It's unclear what the next chapter in this years-long case will look like, but I can't help but be uneasy and wonder: will justice ever be served for Lawrence King?

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