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Gay rights groups baffled by mistrial in slaying of gay classmate

Two prominent gay rights groups expressed their disappointment and dismay after a California judge declared a mistrial late Thursday in the high-profile case involving the slaying of a gay classmate in Oxnard.

Three years ago Brandon McInerney, then 14, brought a gun to E.O. Green School in Oxnard and fatally shot openly gay or transgender classmate Lawrence "Larry" King in front of horrified students and a teacher.

McInerney’s attorneys employed the “gay panic” defense, an emotional argument that is been widely criticized for blaming the victim for his own murder.

Seven jurors voted to convict McInerney of voluntary manslaughter, while five jurors voted to convict him of murder. After at least three votes could not resolve the split, the judge declared a mistrial.

Ventura County District Attorney’s Office can now retry the case or offer a plea agreement.

Eliza Byard, executive director of GLSEN, the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network, said she was not shocked by the verdict but was disappointed by it.

"The mistrial declared [Thursday] is hardly a surprise," Byard said. "This was always destined to be a case with little resolution and no winners, whatever the verdict.

“The central facts remain the same: Homophobia killed Larry King and destroyed Brandon McInerney's life, and adults failed both young men because of their own inability to deal forthrightly and compassionately with the multiple challenges they each faced,” Byard said. “The jury's indecision is a sad reflection of our collective inability to find common ground and invest in a better future for all youth and a culture of respect for all."

Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, expressed similar concerns.

"It is disappointing that the criminal justice system has failed to bring closure to the family, friends and community that loved Lawrence,” he said.

“In the wake of the mistrial, and in honor of Lawrence, we will continue our efforts to prevent these types of tragedies by working with school districts across our nation to stamp out the ignorance and prejudice that led to Lawrence's death.

“It's up to the adults around children to call out that early behavior and prejudice, and to explain that the differences among us are part of what makes us strong: that being different is not something to attack, but to appreciate. If Lawrence or Brandon had lived in that world, their lives might not have collided in tragedy and death," Solmonese said.