Here's a fact set for your consideration: Two middle school boys. One a foot taller than the other. Both have difficult backgrounds. One is struggling with his sexuality and working it out publicly, which makes others around him uncomfortable. He been bullied in his past for his appearance and sexual orientation. The other one is about a foot taller, and has been raised by a homophobic, abusive, alcoholic father.
It is possible, but seems to be unproven, that the taller one is also experimenting with involvement in white supremacy groups, but whether that is true or not seems to be at issue.
Here is what isn't in dispute: Brandon McInerney took his father's Saturday night special from wherever it was stashed in the house. He loaded it with hollow-point bullets. He put it in his backpack and went to school. The day before he said he was going to bring his gun to school. When he got to school, he went to the computer lab, pulled out the gun, and shot Larry King in the back of the head.
That is not in dispute. All sides agree.
You would think, with that fact set, a jury could come to a verdict. And yet, they didn't. Thursday the judge declared a mistrial after the jury deliberated 15 hours because seven jurors wanted to convict him on voluntary manslaughter and five wanted to convict him of first or second degree murder.
What's even weirder? Suddenly all the usual law-and-order conservatives have turned into merciful Pollyannas, including the Ventura County Star itself, whose reporting mirrored their editorial belief that McInerney should have been tried as a juvenile and not an adult, and the hate crime charge should not have been part of the trial.
I'm not sure what you call it if it's not a hate crime, to be honest. Despite the defense team's best efforts to paint it as a "gay panic" defense, it really came down to one kid taunting another with his sexual orientation. If he were not dead from bullets that exploded his head like a watermelon, perhaps we could debate the wisdom of allowing the types of interactions between the two that happened.
But he is dead. He is dead after a classmate shot him in front of all of the other classmates and the teacher. He is dead and he is gone and Brandon McInerney is very much alive and in jail and on trial.
McInerney breathes. King doesn't. And still, there is this weird, strange, counter-intuitive vibe here in Ventura County about how McInerney is as much a victim as King. I can only attribute it to the usual homophobic tendencies of many in this area.
The sly implication is that King had it coming. That the victim, the one cold in his grave, deserved what he got because, well, he was gay. Or looked gay. Or acted gay. I'm not sure any of us really know whether he was or wasn't.
And in more reversals, the conservative kings and queens of personal responsibility are whispering and crying that McInerney was the victim of a school administrator and "lax attitudes." As if stepping on Larry King would have prevented the whole thing. As if a kid who dared to be different, and perhaps in a way that offended or got in others' space, deserved to have hollow point bullets put in his head.
As if being gay is a reason to be dead.