A Southern California teen driven by white supremacist beliefs executed a classmate he believed to be gay at a junior high school with two gunshots to the back of his head in 2008, a prosecutor told jurors Tuesday in her opening trial statement.
Ventura County Deputy District Attorney Maeve Fox said defendant Brandon McInerney acted on the white supremacist philosophy that homosexuality is an abomination.
However, defense attorney Scott Wippert countered that McInerney had reached an emotional breaking point over unwanted sexual advances by 15-year-old victim Larry King and should be convicted of voluntary manslaughter.
"He did this out of heat of passion," Wippert said. "These were two troubled young men and this was a tragedy."
McInerney is being tried as an adult for the February 2008 slaying in Oxnard.
Fox told the nine-woman, three-man jury that McInerney smuggled a .22-caliber handgun into the school and sat behind King, who was at a computer station.
McInerney shot King once then stood up and made eye contact with others in the classroom before firing another round with the gun only inches from the victim's head, Fox said. The defendant dropped the gun and walked from the room, she said.
"The evidence in this case will prove to you that this killing was an execution," Fox said.
McInerney, who was 14 at the time of the shooting, pleaded not guilty to murder, lying in wait and a hate crime. He could face up to life in prison if convicted.
The case was moved to Los Angeles County for trial after many delays. The trial is expected to last weeks, with the prosecution alone planning to call around 40 witnesses.
King's death has roiled gay-rights advocates and parents in Oxnard, a city about 60 miles northwest of Los Angeles. They wondered why officials at E.O Green Junior High School hadn't done more to stop the harassment of King by students, including McInerney.
King's family sued the school district, among two dozen defendants, for failing to protect the teen.
Fox told jurors there won't be any evidence during trial about King's sexual orientation, although in the weeks leading to the shooting the teen wore makeup and high-heeled boots, and told a teacher he wanted to change his name to Leticia.
Jurors will hear from students who will testify about the rocky relationship between the two boys. Among them, Fox said, will be one of McInerney's friends, who said he heard King tell the defendant, "'I love you, baby'" the day before the shooting.
McInerney made several references that same day that he was going to bring a gun to school and shoot King or was going to hurt him, Fox added.
"Say goodbye to your friend Larry because you won't see him after tomorrow," Fox said of expected testimony from one of King's friends.
Wippert said King was the aggressor by making the sexual advances toward McInerney and other boys.
McInerney, dressed in a blue-striped shirt and tan pants, sat in court and remained expressionless as both attorneys spoke to jurors. He was lean and tall and sported a full head of chestnut brown hair — far different from his mugshot taken after his arrest that showed him with a nearly shaved head.
Police found Adolf Hitler's "Mein Kampf" in McInerney's backpack the day of the shooting as well as a wealth of Nazi-inspired drawings and artifacts at the family house, she said.
Fox said jurors should pay close attention to one of McInerney's drawings, an eyeball with a swastika emblazoned on the pupil. She said one investigator had seen that image only one other place — in a picture of a wolf symbolizing a lone wolf ideology by Tom Metzger, leader of the White Aryan Resistance.
"It will answer for you the question why," Fox said of the drawing.
Wippert contended King had sexually harassed other boys, dating back to the fifth grade, where he had been suspended for such behavior. He said King was empowered to make unwanted advances because school administrators were willing to look the other way and accommodate him and the way he dressed.
"Everyone knew about it and no one did anything," Wippert said.
The lawyer said both teens came from broken homes, and King was actually removed from his home at one point during his childhood.
Before jurors were led into the courtroom, Ventura Superior Court Judge Charles Campbell booted McInerney's brother from the rest of the trial after he purportedly told jurors, "The fate of my brother is in your hands," Campbell said.
Wippert said the brother made the statement in the presence of jurors and the young man acknowledged he made a mistake.
Audio: KCLU reporter Lance Orozco talks about the history of the case, and the tense atmosphere in the courtroom on the first day of the trial.