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Crime & Justice

Digging into why transgender teen Larry King was murdered

This Feb. 14, 2008, file photo shows students gathering around a makeshift memorial at E.O. Green middle school, honoring slain school student Lawrence King, 15, who was killed by a classmate because he was gay, in Oxnard. There were many missteps on the way to the murder of a gay student at E.O. Green Junior High School. Teachers and students who witnessed the growing tensions between Brandon McInerney and Larry King were ignored by administrators or did little or nothing to intervene.
Phil McCarten/AP
Author and clinical psychologist Ken Corbett.
Courtesy Ken Corbett

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It was a story that made headlines here for months. In 2008 at a school in Oxnard, a 14-year-old named Brandon McInerney shot and killed a 15-year-old boy named Larry King who'd started identifying as a girl and calling himself "Leticia."

Brandon McInerney (L) and Larry King (R) in photos from their E.O. Green Junior High yearbook.
Brandon McInerney (L) and Larry King (R) in photos from their E.O. Green Junior High yearbook.
E.O. Green Junior High

The prosecution called it premeditated, first degree murder; the defense said a lesser charge was deserved because King had essentially sexually harassed McInerney. After the declaration of a mistrial, McInerney pleaded guilty to lesser charges and got 21 years in prison without parole.

Ken Corbett attended the trial and writes about the case in his new book "A Murder Over a Girl." He's a clinical psychologist and has also written "Boyhoods," about masculinity.

Here's a taste, in which one of the boys' classmates takes the stand:

Moving quickly, as we would learn was her style, Ms. Fox turned to the day of the murder, February 12, 2008, and the classroom at E. O. Green Junior High School, where the murder took place. Using an aerial diagram of the school, Ms. Fox asked Mariah to identify the classroom and to confirm where she had been sitting on the morning in question.

Mariah hesitated, and Ms. Fox repeated the question. As Mariah pointed at the diagram, she began to cry. Sheriff Anton offered tissues and water. Mariah took the tissues, leaving the water bottle unopened on the edge of the witness stand.

Calmed, she went ahead to describe how twenty-eight students had started off the school day together in their homeroom, where they stayed for about fifteen minutes before walking together to the computer lab to work on research papers. Mariah's paper was about Anne Frank.

Twenty minutes after the class had settled into the computer lab, Mariah turned away from her computer to ask a friend a question.

"What did you see? What happened?" Ms. Fox asked.

What happened was that one boy shot another in front of a group of people who are now scarred forever. Why it happened is still unclear. Corbett is extremely sympathetic to both boys' highly troubled backgrounds, and critical of the U.S. practice of trying adults as teenagers, but says the scales are tipped toward the Brandons of the world... and that violence is seemingly more acceptable than expressing a non-standard gender identity.

Listen to the audio for John's in-depth conversation with Corbett, then go to Skylight books Friday to hear him talk about it in person.

Event: March 11, 2016 @ 7:30 p.m., Skylight Books, 1818 N. Vermont Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90027