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California teen admits killing gay student, to serve 25 years

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California teen admits killing gay student, to serve 25 years

(CNN) -- Months after a jury couldn't decide his fate, a Southern California teen has agreed to plead guilty for gunning down a gay classmate three years ago in their junior high classroom.

In September, a judge declared a mistrial in the case of Brandon McInerney, now 17, after jurors said they were hopelessly deadlocked following a nine-week trial on whether he should be found guilty of manslaughter or murder. The next month, the Ventura County District Attorney's Office announced that McInerney would be retried on first-degree murder charges as an adult.

McInerney also was tried as an adult in the first trial.

The district attorney's office said Monday that, since then, it had "carefully reviewed the jury's determination" and talked with some jurors. It also engaged in talks with the victim's family, McInerney and his attorneys after which the relevant parties "agreed upon a disposition that balances the unique facts of the case with the need to protect the public."

Specifically, McInerney pleaded guilty to killing Lawrence King "under the penal code sections for both murder and voluntary manslaughter," as well as to using a firearm in that crime. He will serve 11 years for manslaughter and 10 years for the use of a firearm, according to the district attorney's office. His formal sentencing is set for December 19.

"He will serve the entire 21 years without time off for good behavior and will not receive time off his sentence for the three years and nine months he has spent in juvenile hall before sentencing," the prosecutor's office said, concluding that he'd then serve nearly 25 years total.

Had he been convicted on all the new charges , McInerney would have faced a maximum sentence of 50 years to life in prison.

His defense attorney, Scott Wippert, told CNN affiliate KABC he thought the sentence was "appropriate ... given all of the circumstances and all the evidence that came out at trial."

"Obviously, we've always been of the opinion that he should have been tried as a juvenile," Wippert said. "But that aside, given that he's in adult court, I think that this sentence reflects the sentiments of the jury."

McInerney was 14 when he brought a handgun belonging to relatives to E.O. Green Junior High School in Oxnard, prosecutors said.

He shot the 15-year-old King twice at point-blank range in the back of the head, while both were typing papers in a computer lab for their English class along with two dozen students and their teacher, authorities said.

Friends said King, an eighth grader who lived in a group home called Casa Pacifica, was proud of being openly gay. He liked wearing jewelry and makeup to school and he often wore high-heeled boots with the school uniform. He asked his teachers to call him Leticia instead of Larry. Some students bullied him, pupils said.

Other students said McInerney was also subject to some harassment because King had a crush on him and made it publicly known.

The Ventura County district attorney's office on Monday acknowledged criticism about its decision to try McInerney as an adult. The office stood by its decision, saying the options "available in the juvenile system were inadequate."

"This (plea agreement) is based upon the unique facts and circumstances of this case, and we believe it is a just result that balances the age and maturity level of the defendant with public safety and the gravity of the crime," the office said.

The victim's father, Greg King, described the plea agreement as "bittersweet," saying he didn't think the sentence equated to the crime but understood the thinking behind the deal.

"I think they should have taken another shot at it, but I understand why they didn't," he told CNN affiliate KCAL. "But we've been going this for ... years and at least there's some closure coming up."

http://www.cnn.com/2011/11/21/justice/california-gay-student-killing/index.html?iref=allsearch

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I'm glad that there was finally some justice in this situation. This was actually a more severe sentence than I had predicted -- I'd said for some time that I think the murdering kid should have probably gotten 7-10 years, but this is at least better than getting a slap on the wrist.

This could make a very dramatic TV movie. I'm curious to see if somebody will write up the entire sordid story and document what happened; the murderer was a very damaged kid as well -- physically abused by his father, who was a white supremisist (among other problems) -- and agree to a point that even a gay kid can't harrass somebody who obviously isn't interested. The biggest thing that troubles me is that the gay teen often wore flamboyant clothes to school, fingernail polish, and stuff like that, but the day he was killed, he had on a very ordinary T-shirt and jeans, which was reportedly atypical for him. Very strange.

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Yeah, this is very troubling for me. I believed from the first that Brandon should have been tried as a juvenile. Now instead of the loss of one young life... we have the loss of two. I believe the courts in the State of California are a joke, but so probably are they in many states. Brandon's abusive father, the real criminal here.. gets of scott free. The boy was not the danger to society, it was and still is his father.

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The district attorney's office said Monday that, since then, it had "carefully reviewed the jury's determination" and talked with some jurors. It also engaged in talks with the victim's family, McInerney and his attorneys after which the relevant parties "agreed upon a disposition that balances the unique facts of the case with the need to protect the public."

PR speak for we hammered the kid as hard as we could for the sake of the DA's political future. Sure he's probably already a completely different person from the one who committed the crime 3 years ago and sure, he's probably gonna get beat up and raped and all kinds of horrible things as a kid in the Adult penal system and sure he's probably gonna be a hardened criminal by the time he's thirty from having to fit in to prison culture, but we're trying to create a veneer of justice here, not actual justice.

He will serve 11 years for manslaughter and 10 years for the use of a firearm,

OHHHH, don't even get me started on how utterly ineffective these firearm 'surcharge' laws are.

"He will serve the entire 21 years without time off for good behavior and will not receive time off his sentence for the three years and nine months he has spent in juvenile hall before sentencing," the prosecutor's office said, concluding that he'd then serve nearly 25 years total.

Dear prosecutors. Grabbing simplistically for all the time you can in slam dunk cases is not being tough on crime.

More importantly, the public who votes for these boobs, needs to stop believing that.

Had he been convicted on all the new charges , McInerney would have faced a maximum sentence of 50 years to life in prison.

This is the most disturbing thing of all. Prosecutors threaten a defendant with inflated charges and use that to force plea bargains. There have been documented cases where innocent people have pleaded guilty just to avoid the risk of a high sentence. Radley Balko over at the Agitator has done great work for the last half decade documenting this and other patterns of Prosecutor abuse of the system. I urge you all to check it out.

The Ventura County district attorney's office on Monday acknowledged criticism about its decision to try McInerney as an adult. The office stood by its decision, saying the options "available in the juvenile system were inadequate."

Then spend your time helping the legislature draft the right laws, dumbass! Using the wrong laws to try someone is just as bad as not having good laws to prosecute them under. It's injustice either way.

Dude, re: what you said about the abusive dad. I had not heard that angle, but what you said makes me wish I had a like button for your post. :-)

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There never was going to be a good outcome here. But the villain, to me, is the person who decided to try a 14-year-old boy as an adult and was adamant that was the right thing to do. We the people had no say in the matter, and that was the most criticial point in the case.

Why do we have a juvenile justice system if the powers that be can simply ignore it when it fits their own personal outrage? This clearly was the act of a boy who didn't understand consequences or the fact he had other options open to him. It was not an adult decision. The prosecution didn't care. It didn't care he was a child. They were out for their pound of flesh and weren't going to be denied.

They said in their triumphant decision that they had to weigh the public saftey in their decision. Yeah, he was likely to go out and shoot another gay kid. Sure he was.

Nothing is good about this case. But the kid was a kid. The people working in the DA's office were adults. Shame on them. I wish I voted in that district!

C

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I have to say, I'm not happy that the sentence was so severe. There are a lot of people who get convicted of murder, get a 20-30-year sentence, and then wind up getting paroled after 7-10 years. I would've been satisfied with a sentence like that. If the murderer had been able to get out by the age of 30, I think that's a reasonable punishment to fit the crime. Another decade is very rough; he'll have virtually no life after that, and that's a tragedy.

Still: the thing that bothers me -- and continues to bother me -- is that the killer shot the kid twice in the back of the head. If he had just shot Lawrence King once, I can buy a temporary insanity plea or some other excuse. But two bullets in the head is a deliberate execution, no different than a Mafia hit. Plus the murderer thought about it overnight, brought the gun to school, and waited for hours in order to kill him. That puts it at a whole different level.

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They knocked the sentence down to 21 years, but still, that's a long time. I thought the gay teen's mother's comments were especially heartbreaking -- though there are still unanswered questions, like why the victim was living in a group home if his parents were still alive.

___________________________________________________________________

California teen gets 21 years for killing gay student

From Sara Weisfeldt, CNN

December 19, 2011

111122031431-brandon-mcinerney-yearbook-story-body.jpg

Ventura, California (CNN) -- A Southern California teen who pleaded guilty to killing a gay classmate was sentenced Monday to 21 years in prison.

Brandon McInerney, 17, will serve time in a juvenile detention center until he turns 18, at which point he will be transferred to the custody of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. He will get no credit for time already served, and was ordered to pay $10,000 in restitution.

In September, a judge declared a mistrial in the case of McInerney after a nine-week trial when jurors said they were hopelessly deadlocked on whether he should be found guilty of manslaughter or murder in the death of Lawrence King. He was set to be retried as an adult.

But last month, McInerney agreed to plead guilty to killing King "under the penal code sections for both murder and voluntary manslaughter," as well as to using a firearm in that crime. He will serve 11 years for manslaughter and 10 years for the use of a firearm.

McInerney was 14 years old when he brought a handgun belonging to relatives to E.O. Green Junior High School in Oxnard, prosecutors said.

He shot the 15-year-old King twice at point-blank range in the back of the head, while both were typing papers in a computer lab for their English class along with two dozen students and their teacher, authorities said.

Friends said King, an eighth-grader who lived in a group home called Casa Pacifica, was proud of being openly gay. He liked wearing jewelry and makeup to school and he often wore high-heeled boots with the school uniform. He asked his teachers to call him Leticia instead of Larry. Some students bullied him, pupils said.

Other students said McInerney was also subject to some harassment because King had a crush on him and made it publicly known.

The victim's father, Greg King, read a statement in court Monday on behalf of Larry's mother.

"I will never forgive you for what you did," she wrote. "You have left a big hole in my heart where Larry was."

http://www.cnn.com/2....html?hpt=hp_t3

___________________________________________________________________

BTW: the killer, McInerney, now 17, looks strikingly like Lee Harvey Oswald in the courtroom sketches aired on local LA news today; he already has the face of a hardened criminal, not a boy at all. Very disturbing. As I've said from the day this story broke, this incident has only losers, no winners -- the victim, the killer, the classmates, the family, and the law. But kids have to learn: violence is not the answer, especially shooting somebody twice in the back of the head.

If I didn't already have two (woefully unfinished) novels still simmering on the stove, I'd seriously consider a similar murder story about a gay teenager shot in a situation like this. But I'd add a lot more intrigue, mystery, and suspense, and I'd put a spin on it that maybe pushes it in a more optimistic direction. What if the gay kid was trying to fake his own death? What if it was a prank? What if somebody else wanted him dead? What if it was a stunt gone terribly wrong? What if the victim killed himself in order to implicate somebody else? What if the apparent killer was framed? I could see many different ways to go in a possible novel.

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I will always think that there is no excuse for trying a 14-year-old as an adult, then giving him an adult's punishment.

C

I agree. If they're responsible enough for their actions that they can be punished as an adult, then they should have the privileges of an adult. To vote, sign contracts, drive, drink, etc. One without the either is true hypocrisy. Dammit, we can't have it both ways. Adult punishment for kids is just wrong.

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It's a terrible, sad case all around. Yes, a 14 year old should be tried as a juvenile. But the crime he committed was the most heinous, the taking of a life. Do I feel sorry that he had an abusive family life? Yes.

He's currently seventeen and has been in juvenile hall. He'll be going into adult prison. Not good. -- But he killed a boy when he was a boy. He killed someone. You do NOT have to take a gun to school and shoot a classmate in the back of the head twice while writing an English paper. You really don't. I don't care how much you don't like the other boy or how flamboyantly he acts or what name he (allegedly) wants to be called. You aren't required to like him. But don't kill him for it. Not even if he's had a crush on you. (And did Larry himself say he had a crush on the boy? Or was that a rumor? If true, poor Larry really got a bad one there.)

To me, it comes down to something very simple, despite all the awful surrounding facts and circumstances. A 14 year old boy should know beyond a doubt that it is wrong to kill another human being. If you kill by accident, that's one thing. If you kill in self-defense or to defend others, that's another. But no, you don't get to bring that gun to class and shoot a kid because he's gay and had a crush on you and acts in a way that calls attention to his difference. You don't get to do that and say you didn't know it was wrong to kill another person.

I'll bet, too, that if you saw how half the girls in school were dressed every day, you'd see some "flamboyant attention-seeking" there too. And I'll even bet that if you saw how half the boys were dressed, you'd see a "typically male" form of some flamboyancy and attention-seeking. Straight boys do dress for that, to attract girls and to express their personality, and even to identify with other boys, both for allegiance and for competition. So, sorry, you don't get to claim a gay boy wearing whatever was pushing your buttons so much that you got that angry. Nope, won't work for me.

One of the "reasons" used to bully a supposedly out gay boy (the only supposedly out gay boy) when I went to junior high? Oh, well, he wore a purple polo shirt with the collar standing up. Like none of the other boys ever wore their collar up or wore purple or pink shirts. Yes, I remember what it felt like to be a junior high and high school boy, and how I and others got bullied, picked on, gossiped about, as well as who was friendly and didn't go for that garbage.

Ultimately, the boy who committed the crime will have to serve time for what he did. He doesn't get to go unpunished for doing something so bad. And ultimately, it won't bring back a boy who was only 14 and had his whole life ahead of him. The boy who did the crime ends up with a life ruined, because of what he did in a few seconds, because what he did was that wrong. The boy who was the victim...is no longer alive to do all the things a young man should get to do. Two losses. What a shame.

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"A 14 year old boy should know beyond a doubt that it is wrong to kill another human being."

See, I agree with you here, but we disagree on the next item on the chain of causality.

I don't see a 14-year old as being able to fully consider the consequences of his actions or of being able to withstand the pressures to act against what he knows is right or wrong. (especially if he's told that gays are evil.)

Point is, for me, that we as a society recognize the inability of kids to handle certain things, so we bar them from military service, drinking, driving etc.

But the law needs to be a consistent scale.

If the law says that kids are a special case, then they have to be a special case always, not just when convenient or when the politics are good for it.

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All those arguments about how he should have known it was wrong, and how terrible the act was, simply go to the heart of my argument. He was 14. He was able to disregard all those reasons not to shoot another kid because he himself was a kid.

Science has shown the brain of a 14-year-old kid hasn't fully matured. Ask any teacher in high school AND college who deal with young people every day and they'll confirm it, kid's brains do not function like adult brains until the young person is in his 20s, and usually his mid-20s.

A 14-year-old does not make the same judgments an adult does. Why is there a juvenile legal system at all? It is because we have come to realize kids don't make the same decisions, don't consider the consequences of their acts either as they affect themselves or their victims, in the way adults do.

If, because one crime is more egregious than another, we can pick or chose whom to try as an adult and whom to try as a juvenile, then we're allowing emotion to override the whole reason we have two systems of justice. I totally agree that the crime was reprehensible. But the simple ridiculousness of it is further proof that it was done by a child rather than an adult. He was bothered because a gay kid was flirting with him, and he thought that might marginalize his rep. Is that something a 30-year-old man would do? Walk into a bar where he was well known, then pull out a gun, fire two shots into the back of an acquaintance’s head because the guy had winked at him, then simply walk away, knowing he'd just forfeited his life?

I hate the crime, I hate the loss of King's life, but still don't think the kid who did it was thinking or acting like an adult, that he wasn't capable of doing that because he was a kid, and that the act itself proves that.

C

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Uh, Cole, while I see what you're saying, and mostly can agree, there's one flaw there, about that 30 year old man hypothetically going into a bar.

A year or so ago now, there was a case where two young men, somewhere near or above 18 to 21, were walking by a Galveston restaurant or bar. They didn't like that there were two gay guys sitting near a window, eating together, minding their own business. So the two young men threw a chunk of concrete through the door or window (I forget exactly which) and hit one of the gay men in the head, severely injuring him. (I don't remember if he eventually left the hospital, or if he died later.) The two young men were tried in court. There were witnesses besides the boyfriend or partner. The judge and jury -- did not find the young men guilty.

The guys who caused Matthew Shepard's death were also at or above 18.

My point is that yes, a grown man can and will kill as trivially as a juvenile might.

I don't disagree that a teen or younger doesn't think in the same ways an adult does. -- Heck, I can remember a few things I had the wrong way around as a kid and teen. (That includes one time between a classmate and myself in which we were both wrong, which shaped who I am, in both positive and negative ways.) So yes, I get that and have some sympathy for mistakes made and lessons learned, which shouldn't have to ruin the rest of someone's life. I'd even go so far as to say adults can learn and reform.

But I have real trouble when a mid-teen boy gets so long-term angry and ashamed that he gets a gun, brings it to school, and uses it on a classmate in the middle of class, fires twice in the back of the boy's head, killing him. That, I do have problems setting aside.

I don't know the exact answer. I'm not wise enough on that. I would hope the boy has truly repented and reformed. But what he did was, at the time, intentional and avoidable and can't be fixed. I don't see how to excuse that.

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Cole is correct.

Thanks to the modern miracle of MRIs we now know far more than we did a couple of decades ago about brain development. It used to be thought that the human brain was essentially finished when we hit puberty. We now know that is not factually correct. Not even close. In fact, significant changes to the prefrontal cortex happen until age 25. You have one guess for what the prefontal cortext does in the human brain: That's right. It's responsible for judgement, decision-making, impulse control, organization, planning, etc. All that stuff we know from experience that teens struggle with. The second area that continues growth and change well into early adulthood is the corpus collosum. That's the bundle of nerves and neurons that connect your left brain with your right brain. Most of you have probably heard the stories about the things done as a result of "left brain" and "right brain" thinking. Some of that is old wives tales, but there's some truth to it. If those two pieces aren't communicating quickly and clearly yet, it can cause a few issues.

That's why we teach, and deal with, teens the way we do. Repetition, clarity, predictability of routine, encouraging (but not expecting) sober thought before action, with increasing challenges as they succeed. That's us, without knowing we're doing it, helping those neural connections grow and solidfy.

Here's a couple of articles on the phenomena, found with a quick google:

http://teenagebrain.blogspot.com/

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/teenbrain/work/adolescent.html

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Just going to add, seeing blue's reply while I was writing mine. The crime is heinous either way. There's no debate about the horrendous results. But there is debate about how we deal with the causes. Are there adults who act just as impulsively? Sure there are. We all know, sadly, that there are. But, they don't get that "brain development" pass. We expect that they're acting that way for different reasons, and therefore should learn to control them. Of course, even with adults, there's exceptions. Lots of mental illness includes poor impulse control and poor judgement in the symptom mix. Still, it seems to me that attempting to deal with the crime by painting every perpetrator with the same brush is disingenous. It's too easy, and not thought through. Not "civilized".

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There's another question that hasn't been debated. If Brandon McInerney had been convicted as a juvenile he would be out of a California juvenile detention center by the age of 25 regardless of how heinous the crime. He took the life of another boy, came prepared to his classroom with a gun, and shot Larry King in the back of his head two times. For that crime, on his 25th birthday Brandon McInerney would have been released a free man. Without referring to how he was actually tried and sentenced, please explain how that is a sufficient and right and good punishment for the premeditated murder of another boy.

Colin :icon_geek:

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There's another question that hasn't been debated. If Brandon McInerney had been convicted as a juvenile he would be out of a California juvenile detention center by the age of 25 regardless of how heinous the crime. He took the life of another boy, came prepared to his classroom with a gun, and shot Larry King in the back of his head two times. For that crime, on his 25th birthday Brandon McInerney would have been released a free man. Without referring to how he was actually tried and sentenced, please explain how that is a sufficient and right and good punishment for the premeditated murder of another boy.

I agree with everything you said, Colin. The prosecution said several times (though this was not in these particular news stories) the only way they could convict the kid for more than 7 years was to prosecute him as an adult. I personally think a 15-year sentence, with him possibly released in 10 years for good behavior, would have been reasonable punishment.

My partner has a law degree, and he and I have talked several times about the U.S. legal definition of "the age of reason," which is 7. At 7, children have a grasp of right and wrong, especially when it comes to violence, theft, and similar acts. I don't buy that somebody who is 14 or 15 wouldn't understand the consequences of firing two shots in the back of someone's head.

While I wouldn't condone McInerney doing so, I could at least understand it if he had simply beaten the crap out of King after school, using his hands. The troubling thing to me is that the kid was angry the day before, went home, thought about it, got a gun, concealed it, went to sleep, woke up the next day, got ready for school, packed the gun, went to school, then patiently sat through several classes until he encountered King... and then shot him twice in the back of the head. It's the planning, the "laying in wait," and execution-style murder that really, really bother me. That takes thought and time, plus he immediately dropped the gun and ran out of school to make his escape, knowing that otherwise he'd be punished.

There are other facts explored in this Wikipedia link that go into some unexplored territory, like the coincidence that both boys had mothers who were addicted to drugs during their pregnancy, causing both boys to have behavioral and learning disabilities. Lawrence King also had very poor judgement in sexually harassing other boys, especially in front of other people; while that's stupid and bad manners, I don't think he should've been killed for it. And McInerney was reportedly skilled in martial arts and firing guns as well as being a white supremacist. This was not a simple case, and both boys acted badly, were from very troubled families, and I also think the school had poor judgement.

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The unfortunate circumstance is that we are a society steeped in violence and far too often that is the method used to solve disputes. I agree that adolescent minds are often incapable of rational thought, young males are driven by hormones, and Brandon McInerney is no different.

But our society is run by adults and in this sensless act, this crime, there was an adult that enabled the boy to carry out his horrific plan. Where did he get the gun? I think any adult that allows a child to gain access to a firearm for the comission of a crime has to be considered an accomplice.

I don't care if the father was a white supremacist or an avid pacifist, if he enabled the crime by allowing his son access to that gun he becomes a participant in the murder. What does any rational, and in this case irrational, adult think a child will do with a gun? If the boy had become angry about some punishment at home he might just as well have shot his parents, we read about that all the time.

In many ways Brandon was victimized by his father who doesn't sound like a very good parent. In all I have read I also come to the conclusion that Larry King pushed too hard against the emotional instability of his classmate. In some ways the teasing Larry focused on Brandon ought to be considered bullying because of the effect it had. Perhaps Brandon should have used his fists in retaliation and that would have created attention on the issue which needed resolution.

Larry did not handle himself well, and without proper adult guidance we see the results, Brandon came to his own very wrong means of solving the problem. The adults at the school and in the classroom did not handle this well either. Larry and Brandon should have been separated at the first indication of something going wrong and should not have been in the same classes. The political correctness of allowing Larry to dress up at school was a bad choice and only served to enable his actions.

And now Brandon will have years to think about that moment. He will not leave prison an older and wiser person. Instead the judicial system has delivered him into the arms of the supremicist gangs who will feed him a steady diet of hate and misinformation. I would be more concerned about the adult he will be upon release.

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I don't know any way to make this right. But I do think incarcerating a boy till he's 50, taking away all of his childhood and youth, because he made a decision that smacks to at least some degree of insanity and a youthful inability to figure a way out of his situation, a situation that to him was unbearable but four years later he might have found laughable, is wrong. Especially when so many of the adults involved also did the wrong thing and could have easily prevented it.

I don't consider incarcerating him from 14 to 25 to be a light punishment. I think there is the barest possibility he can come out of jail at 25 and still have a semblance of a life. I don't think he can come out of jail at 50 with that hope. The sentence left him no hope for a meaningful life at all.

Now if that's what anyone would consider proper, then why not simply dispatch him now? Why spend all those dollars keeping him locked up for 36 years?

What is the proper thing to do when a boy kills someone? I think you'd have to be smarter than I am to answer that. The courts already have; they've developed a juvenile justice system. But this wasn't decided by the courts. It was decided by a District Attorney who was hellbent for a harsh sentence, the harshest he could administer. The first jury was hung because members of it thought the boy should be tried as a juvenile. Their wishes were simply ignored by the DA. He wanted his pound of flesh.

So instead of losing one boy, we've lost two. Are we better off as a society, going in that direction? As I say, I'm not smart enough to know what's right here. But I don't think as a society we want to revert to earlier justice systems, like the one in England during Dickens' time, where people cheered when some poor soul was doing his final dance on the the gibbet.

C

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OK, I think some of the comments in the thread are making (literally) a potentially dangerous assumption.

It is laudable to hope that a boy would see the consequences of his actions, see that he did wrong, repent of that, and never go on to do that again. That would be a most desirable outcome. Perhaps we could add, learning violence isn't acceptable; neither are white supremacist ideas on race, eugenics, sexuality, and so on; nor intolerance of others; nor getting so bent out of shape over a perceived insult.

However, he has proven he thought it was acceptable, preferable, to kill based on those criteria. By age 14, he should know it is wrong to kill. How does it do society any good to let loose a person who might next decide to do that the next time someone crosses his path who does something he gets mad about, he might decide, oh, it's OK to shoot them too? It's his ability to control himself, to discern right and wrong and acceptable behavior, that would concern me.

Do I agree that some people might commit a crime, even murder, and truly reform, learn their lesson, and not do that wrong again? Yes, that's possible. But if we are to be civilized, we have to be able to discern if someone has indeed changed, reformed, before we can let them loose into society.

We are dealing with conjecture, with "what if's," to say he may be reformed, or to say he cannot be. But there is the very practical concern of what to do about that. What happens, the next time he gets mad, feels insulted or threatened, or encounters someone he's been raised to think is not of that "supreme" race (or sexuality or physical ability or...), what happens then?

I honestly think it's very dangerous to assume someone who committed murder, even at 14, is automatically going to learn better and not be a risk to do a violent crime like that again. There's nothing nice about what he did. We don't know that he has reformed. He'll have to prove that.

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I had some comments too, meant respectfully as advice, on Larry King's side of things, teasing a boy who wasn't interested, or the "Leticia" bit, or how he dressed or acted up. I'll just say he didn't use the best judgment there, and I'll note I seem to recall not having the best judgment either in 8th and 9th grade. I was set to post those comments, but then felt possibly it would sound disrespectful of Larry, and that's very much not what I'd want to do. I have mixed feelings on how he went about some of that, based on what's reported. On the one hand, hey, he has the right to be himself, an out gay boy. Or he ought to have that right. On the other, there is a time and a place, and sometimes, you don't need to do something, when people will not get it and may actively harm you for it. A couple of those choices were not good judgment. I would, however, say in an ideal world, it should not have been a problem how he dressed or makeup, at least. Unfortunately, our world is not ideal.

This makes me think about how boys I knew (me too) were bullied for being perceived as gay; only one of those was supposedly openly out gay. (I don't know how true that was.)

How a boy moves (body language, posture, any of it), how his voice sounds, how his body and face are built? These are not things a boy has much control over. They're natural, inborn parts of him. Sure, he can do a little to modify that, but mostly, it's just there. -- I am not jumping on the butch/fem bandwagon there. I had my own body issues to deal with there, and I went to school with a boy who was made fun of for his natural way of being. Trust me, he wasn't camping it up.

How a boy dresses, his hair, any jewelry, any makeup, whatever he carries? Sigh. Why do people get so bent out of shape over that? Two different boys might wear the same outfit and people would react differently to each of them. The makeup thing? There are goth kids, punk kids, club kids, and rock bands, theatre folks, whatever. (By the way, that includes back when I grew up.) Hairstyle? It grows back or you can cut it. Clothing, shoes, anything else? Aw, come on. Yet boys get judged on that, even when there's nothing "gay" or "cool" or "uncool" about it, really.

We don't live in an ideal world, though. We live where you get snap judgments based on what's "cool" and "in," and what's considered OK for boys to wear. (Likewise for the girls.) -- The kids and the adults who get all aggravated about that are going to be nutty about it anyway. The kids and adults who like a little variety or simply aren't bothered one way or the other will be fine with it. -- Yet sometimes, you have to say, OK, maybe now isn't the best time, I'll be how I want when I'm at home or not at school.

I got teased for things that really had nothing to do with being gay or not. So I get that. I got teased also for things that probably did have something to do with me being gay. You're gonna get flak in any case. -- Sometimes, a little camouflage is a good idea. But the ones getting aggravated about it aren't right to tease or bully.

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If we knew exactly how to deal with these situations, and knew precisely what worked and what didn't, then these things wouldn't happen. But, we don't. So we try to do the best we can, with what we know.

The thing is, we really need to watch our assumptions. Making decisions on poor or unfounded assumptions is unwise at the best of times. When people's lives hang in the balance it's even worse. We know both boys came from poor backgrounds, exacerbating the already poor decision making and judgement skills of many teens. We know people need to be held accountable for their actions. We know human beings have some ability to do that as soon as they can walk and talk, but they can't do it fully until midway through their third decade of life. We know this is much harder for people raised in environments where the people around them can't or won't do so themselves.

We also know, fairly accurately, how well prisons work. If our stated goal of "punishing" people is to stop them from doing such things again, then we simply measure the rate of released prisoners committing similar crimes. Those statistics speak for themselves, and they aren't happy statistics. If our goal is to "punish" people regardless of what they do once released, then we need to question our own motives. If our goal is to stop other people from doing the same, using those incarcerated as an example, then we have a serious ethical dilemma on our hands, not to mention questions about the success of that method.

The very idea of "punishment" is at the core of this debate. Before we ask, "What is the appropriate punishment," we need to ask, "What is punishment? What do we want to achieve? What outcomes are desirable for the victim and their family, the perpetrator, and society at large?"

From a strictly behavioural standpoint, we know simple behaviours can and are modified by reinforcement and punishment. These words have specific meanings in behavioural terms, and they aren't quite what the general public perceives them to mean. Likewise, the terms "positive" and "negative" in behavioural terms do not mean at all what many people perceive them to mean, and have nothing to do with "good" or "bad." We also know behaviours are influenced as much or more by their antecedents (what happens before the behaviour) as by their consequences (what happens after - reinforcement or punishment).

Behaviour is influenced by consequences (ignoring antecedent) in four ways: Positive Reinforcement, Negative Reinforcement, Positive Punishment, and Negative Punishment. Those terms don't mean what you likely think they do. The words "positive" and "negative" are the mathematical application of those terms, meaning adding or removing something. Reinforcement is anything that tends to made a behaviour happen more often, and punishment is anything that tends to decrease the frequency of a behaviour. So therefore, positive reinforcement means adding something desirable, for example giving somebody something, like money, after a desired behaviour, like doing your job at work. Negative reinforcement means pretty much the opposite of what most people think it means. Negative reinforcement means to increase the frequency of a behaviour through removing something. For example, getting a teen to finish the dishes by agreeing to turn off the jazz music you like but that he hates. Positive punishment is what most people think of as "punishment," namely adding something unpleasant to a person, like spanking a child for misbehaviour. Negative punishment is removing something pleasant or desirable after a behaviour. For example when you speed in traffic you often have money removed from your wallet.

Out of all that, we know that reinforcement is roughly four times more effective at affecting behaviour than punishment. Punishment works, but not very well. We also know that punishment's effectiveness is extremely sensitive to the length of time between the behaviour and the consequence. The less mature the subject, the more this is true. Giving a six year old a time-out for making a mess the day before yesterday is worse than useless. Court dates and jail time months and months after the crime doesn't work very well. Punishment works best when it occurs immediately (seconds, or minutes) following a behaviour. Not days, weeks, or months later. This is mitigated somewhat by maturity - the more rational and patient you are, the more likely it will have an effect later. The problem is, most criminals aren't particularly rational or patient.

All of this completely ignores antecedent events. The things that happen that lead us to behave a certain way (including the way we're raised, social and cultural influences, etc, not to mention the immediate precursor). More importantly, it ignores the fact that regular life is not a controlled laboratory setting. Innumerable factors contribute to behaviour. Subtle and not so subtle things become antecedents and consequences. Thousands upon thousands of them. It also ignores the fact that we are not mice or rats. Our behaviour, thanks to rational symbolic thought, is infinitely more complex.

So what do we do with all that?

Damned if I know.

Except that what seems to work best is look for the models that seem effective and copy them. We need to do what works, not what we think ought to work, or what we wish would work. What institutions, groups, countries, etc have the least problem with violent crime? What are they doing right? Let's copy that.

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I'm just going to add, the idea that we possess a black and white "age of reason" is not accurate. In terms of moral decision making, how and why we make decisions about "right" and "wrong," this is a multi-faceted sliding scale based on many factors, mostly age and maturity, but others as well.

A fellow named Lawrence Kohlberg did considerable research in this very area several decades ago. He summarized, for convenience, this decision making into six stages (actually three sets of two stages). What's important here is why we make the moral decisions we make as much as what that decision is.

The stages are as follows:

Level One (Pre-Conventional Moral Reasoning)

Stage One: Obedience and Punishment Orientation (Might makes Right - How can I avoid punishment) - at this stage what is right is simply who's strongest and what hurts less.

Stage Two: Self-Interest Orientation (You Scratch My Back, I'll Scratch Yours or What's In It For Me?) - at this stage what's right is what you can get out of it. Most sociopaths are here. Also pretty much all two year olds.

Level Two (Conventional Moral Reasoning) (Most adults are here)

Stage Three: Interpersonal Accord and Conformity (What is "normal", The "Good Boy/Girl" attitude, Peer Pressure) - Most middle schoolers sit here, and many, many adults. What's right is, quite simply, what most of your buddies do. Or think.

Stage Four: Authority and Social Order Maintaining Orientation (Law and Order Morality - If it's legal, it's right, if it's illegal, it's wrong. Period.) - This is where most average adults are, and people who enter stages five and six beyond this are somewhat rarer, though not by any means insignificant.

Level Three (Post-Conventional Moral Reasoning) (Only a relatively smallish, but still significant, percentage of people reach this. But some teens can and do think on this level even before adulthood)

Stage Five: Social Contract Orientation (Justice, Dignity, Common Good thinking. We do what's right because it's better for society and humankind, not just ourselves)

Stage Six: Universal Ethical Principles (Principled Conscience, Univeral Principles based on Equality and Worth of Life)

We don't get to a stage and stick to it. We move up and down. Depending. Even from day to day depending on our mood. We can even be at one stage in one area of morality and another in another area.

So where does this young man stand on this chart? Almost certainly not above stage one or two. As does the vast majority of the prison population. What does this mean? If we do things that would be effective to people on stage four and beyond and expect them to work with people at stage one and two, we're fooling ourselves. Badly.

We can, however, help people to grow beyond the stage they're at. In fact, we do it all the time with kids when we're raising them, we just don't think of it in those terms.

I know, this still doesn't really give any clear answer, but it might help us think about it a bit better.

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I don't know any way to make this right. But I do think incarcerating a boy till he's 50, taking away all of his childhood and youth, because he made a decision that smacks to at least some degree of insanity and a youthful inability to figure a way out of his situation...

Nope, he's out when he's about 39. I see your other point, and it's a tragedy no matter how you look at it. But my feeling is we have to send a message to kids that violence is wrong, especially when you're executing a gay kid who's making unwanted advances and taunts.

I'm just going to add, the idea that we possess a black and white "age of reason" is not accurate. In terms of moral decision making, how and why we make decisions about "right" and "wrong," this is a multi-faceted sliding scale based on many factors, mostly age and maturity, but others as well.

C'mon -- I think even a 7-year-old understands, "it's not nice to shoot somebody twice in the back of the head." Again, I understand kids who have bad tempers -- I have a young adopted niece who has been suspended several times for having anger management issues, driving my brother's family crazy -- but murder is not excusable. I also understand about raging hormones, embarrassment, and wanting to beat the other kid up.

I'm angry that the school didn't stop Lawrence King from dressing like a girl, from sexually harrassing kids, and acting in an over-the-top way that disrupted classes; I'm angry that nobody saw that the situation was escalating and that McInerney felt he had no other option but to execute somebody in cold blood. I'm also disheartened that both boys came from troubled family situations, and neither was being raised very well (from what I know of what went on). These are white-trash kids in a white-trash area, with a lot of bad judgement spread out between parents, teachers, and the kids themselves.

But at the same time, I'm not convinced that McInerney would have learned from his mistakes if he had just served a few years and then been released. I think this is a sad, very damaged kid whose life is doomed. It may well have been doomed long before he pulled the trigger.

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