LOS ANGELES — About all that prosecutors and defense attorneys agree on in the slaying of 15-year-old Larry King is this: His death was a tragedy and Brandon McInerney killed him.
Now, after an eight-week trial that saw nearly 100 witnesses take the stand, jurors must weigh whether King's shooting by McInerney was a cold-blooded murder prompted by hate-filled, white supremacist rage, or whether the defendant's responsibility was somehow diminished because his gay classmate had been taunting him with unwanted sexual advances.
Jurors began deliberations Friday after a lumbering trial that at times seemed to get bogged down with rambling testimonies and legal objections, including unsuccessful defense motions for a mistrial.
McInerney's lawyers do not dispute their client took a .22-caliber handgun from home, brought it to school and shot King in the head in front of horrified classmates in February 2008, but they want the jury to convict him of voluntary manslaughter instead of first-degree murder with a hate-crime enhancement, potentially shaving decades off any prison sentence.
"He is guilty and he should be held responsible, but he is not a murderer. He is not a white supremacist," McInerney's lead attorney, Scott Wippert, told jurors. "He is a 14-year-old child who didn't know what to do and had no one to guide him."
That basic premise has been argued over and over in the Chatsworth courthouse in Los Angeles' San Fernando Valley. The case was moved from Ventura County after saturation media coverage there.
Calling the case an "absolute tragedy," Wippert presented testimony from a psychologist who said McInerney had "dissociated" at the time of the attack and his child brain did not have the emotional capability to process the enormity of killing.
Such arguments are ridiculous, Ventura County Deputy District Attorney Maeve Fox countered.
"There is absolutely no way under any set of circumstances that the facts of this case could ever be voluntary manslaughter because no reasonable average person would ever do what the defendant did," Fox said.
McInerney, now 17, made a conscious decision to kill King after King flirted with him, telling a friend he planned to shoot his classmate, she said. He hid a gun in his backpack and brought it to E.O. Green Junior High School in Oxnard, where he shot King twice in the back of the head, a "cold-blooded execution," the prosecutor said.
"This defendant is guilty of first-degree murder," she said. "He is an extremist, and he did the most extreme thing humanly possible."
Lawyers wrapped up their closing arguments Friday before a packed courtroom. Throughout the trial, a bevy of academics and sociologists has thronged the public chambers, along with family for both victim and defendant, students from his school and others.
Like he did on other days, McInerney stood in a crisp, lightly striped shirt to observe jurors as they filed into court, taking the opportunity to look at his mother. At one point, she ran out of the courtroom sobbing.
The lanky teen with swept-back, dark hair looked nothing like the fresh-faced kid in his yearbook photo and towered over the lawyers standing on either side of him.
According to Fox, Wippert reminded jurors during closing arguments no fewer than 39 times about McInerney's age at the time of the attack. Ultimately, it should not matter, she said. He is being tried as an adult.
"The law requires you to check your feelings at the door," she said. "The evidence in this case is beyond any doubt."
The hate crime allegation stems from investigators finding numerous links to white extremist groups in McInerney's school books and belongings. They say he acted as a lone wolf who could not tolerate homosexuals and pointed to swastikas and other Third Reich insignia he had sketched as proof.
His lawyers countered that McInerney was only researching Adolf Hitler and Nazism because he was working on a school project about tolerance. Other items of World War II paraphernalia belonged to his brother, a war reenactment enthusiast, the brother testified.
Wippert characterized McInerney as an emotionally repressed boy who had suffered physical abuse at home from a violent dad and was unable to seek guidance after his classmate told him he wanted to be his Valentine and was "parading back and forth in a sexy flirtatious manner" while wearing makeup.
Wippert also blamed school administrators for not addressing the simmering feud between the boys. Instead of diffusing the situation, a teacher "waved her fingers" at McInerney and told him to respect King's rights.
McInerney has pleaded not guilty to one count each of murder and a hate crime. If convicted, he faces more than 50 years in prison. Jurors also can consider a conviction of voluntary manslaughter, which carries a maximum 21-year term.
Fox, the prosecutor, agreed with Wippert's description of the case as tragic.
But, she said, "It's also a done deal. You can't consider feeling sorry for the defendant."
Associated Press writer Greg Risling contributed to this report.
Watkins can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/thomaswatkins