Suspect in murder of Lawrence King only 14; gay rights advocates say treating him as an adult in court would only compound tragedy
A coalition of 27 LGBT rights groups this week released a statement urging Ventura County, Calif. prosecutors not to go through with plans to try as an adult the 14-year-old boy accused of murdering a gay classmate in February.
Brandon McInerney has been charged as an adult in the Feb. 12 murder of Lawrence King, a 15-year-old classmate of McInerney’s at E.O. Green Middle School. Students at the school have said McInerney targeted King because the victim was openly gay and because King wore women’s jewelry and makeup. Some have also said McInerney shot King in the head because King had flirted with him.
The group of organizations, including Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, the National Center for Lesbian Rights and the Transgender Law Center, delivered a short statement to Ventura County District Attorney Gregory D. Totten, calling on him to try McInerney as a juvenile.
The statement said that while the organizations are "saddened and outraged" by King’s murder, they also "call on prosecutors not to compound this tragedy with another wrong. We call on them to treat the suspect as a juvenile, not as an adult."
The statement continued, "The facts in this matter seem clear: One boy killed another in a climate of intolerance and fear about sexual orientation and gender expression. The alleged perpetrator, who turned 14 years old less than three weeks before the shooting, should be held accountable for his actions. But we support the principles underlying our juvenile justice system that treat children differently than adults and provide greater hope and opportunity for rehabilitation.
"In addition, public safety is not served by treating children as adults. According to research released by the Centers for Disease Control in 2006, children transferred to adult court are more likely to re-offend than those committing similar offenses who remain in the juvenile justice system," the statement said. "California law does not require district attorneys to prosecute 14-year-olds as adults, even in circumstances such as these, and we oppose them doing so. We are issuing this joint statement because we believe so strongly in principles of justice that protect all our young people and know that, even in the face of strong emotions, we should not abandon them. We refuse to let our sense of outrage blind us to the fact that the suspect is only 14 years old."
The organizations’ statement said that prosecuting McInerney as an adult would not "bring Lawrence King back," and neither would it make schools safer for LGBT youth.
"We must respond to this tragedy by strengthening our resolve to change the climate in schools, eliminate bigotry based on sexual orientation, gender identity or expression and hold schools responsible for protecting students against discrimination and physical harm," the statement said.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 18, 2008.