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U.S. teen gets 21 years in gay killing

12/19/2011 04:17 EST | Updated 02/18/2012 05:12 EST

A U.S. teenager was sentenced on Monday to 21 years in a California state prison for shooting a gay student to death during a computer lab class three years ago.

Brandon McInerney, 17, didn't speak at the hearing but his lawyer Scott Wippert said his client was sorry for killing Larry King, 15. "He feels deeply remorseful and stated repeatedly if he could go back and take back what he did he would do it in a heartbeat," Wippert said.

King's family said they couldn't forgive their son's killer.

"You took upon yourself to be a bully and to hate a smaller kid, wanting to be the big man on campus," King's father, Greg King, said on behalf of his wife. "You have left a big hole in my heart where Larry was and it can never be filled."

In a deal reached with Ventura County prosecutors last month to avoid a retrial, McInerney agreed to plead guilty to second-degree murder, as well as one count each of voluntary manslaughter and use of a firearm.

A mistrial was declared in September when jurors couldn't reach a unanimous decision on the degree of guilt. Several jurors said later McInerney's shouldn't have been tried as an adult.

Leading up to the February 2008 killing, teachers and students saw a dispute growing between King and McInerney, who shot King twice in the head in a computer lab at E.O Green Junior High School.

McInerney, then 14, had reached an emotional breaking point after King made repeated, unwanted sexual advances toward him and other boys, defence lawyers said. In the weeks leading up to the shooting, school administrators allowed King to wear heels and makeup because federal law provides the right of students to express their sexual orientation.

Sexual identity issues

The case raised questions about how schools should deal with students and sexual identity issues. Because of pretrial publicity, the trial was moved to Los Angeles from Ventura County.

After serving nearly four years since King's slaying, the additional 21 years means McInerney will be released just before his 39th birthday.

The plea deal calls for McInerney to be given the harshest sentence under California law for voluntary manslaughter — 11 years — and 10 years for use of a firearm, prosecutors said. McInerney is ineligible for time served or good behaviour because he pleaded guilty to murder.

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