The Hate Crime Charge May Have Helped Derail The Lawrence King Trial

The Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network said they knew that the Lawrence King murder case would end in a mistrial, but is the prosecution’s decision to try Brandon McInerney for a hate crime to blame?

The entire trial was really over this one question: did McInerney kill Lawrence in a pre-meditated fashion (1st degree murder) because King was gay (a hate crime) or did he commit the murder in the heat of passion (voluntary manslaughter)? Considering that McInerney went home, got and loaded a gun, and then waited until computer class to kill Lawrence, the prosecution had a good case to show his level of premeditation.

But early on into the trial, the prosecution also got the judge to throw out the “gay panic” defense, and the judge instructed the jury not to let biases toward the victim’s sexual identity influence their deliberations.

But for a jury to find Brandon McInerney guilty of first-degree murder with a hate crime, the jury had to consider McInerney’s bias toward the victim’s sexual identity. That is, the prosecution had to prove that McInerney’s bias toward gay people compelled him to target Lawrence.

Hate crimes are hard to prove because attackers rarely admit, “I targeted him because he was gay.” In fact, in 2005 California reported 1,691 hate crimes, prosecuted 330 of them, and scored a conviction in only 137 of the cases—that’s an eight percent success rate.

Adding hate crime charges may have reduced the chances of convicting McInerney of first-degree murder charge to less than one in ten.

It’s interesting because when so many LGBT activist seem to seek hate crimes legislation that would help investigate anti-queer attacks, hate crimes themselves may actually help get anti-gay assailants off with lighter sentences.