Why would one teen boy shoot his classmate? Was he motivated by homophobia and hate? Or was the shooter himself also a victim, subject to bullying and abuse that precipitated a shocking crime?
Lawyers raised both arguments at the first murder trial of Brandon McInerney, a 14-year-old charged with the murder of his classmate, 15-year-old Larry King. That trial ended in a hung jury last month and Tuesday, the prosecutors in the case announced that they would try Brandon again.
On Feb. 12, 2008, Brandon shot Larry twice in the back of the head in their eighth-grade English classroom at E.O. Green Junior High School in Oxnard, Calif. Larry died two days later. Brandon was charged as an adult with first degree murder and a hate crime.
Police weren't the only ones calling the shooting a hate crime. Friends of Larry said Brandon, a popular jock, was disgusted with Larry's "flamboyant" persona. He was humiliated, they said, when Larry, an effeminate boy who had recently started wearing make-up, asked Brandon to be his valentine.
Talk show host Ellen Degeneres took the story personally.
"A boy has been killed. A number of lives have been ruined," she said on her show. "And somewhere the killer, Brandon, got the idea it would be so horrific that Larry might want to be his valentine ... that killing Larry seemed to be the right thing to do."
But when Brandon's trial began this past July, his defense lawyers painted a different picture. Brandon, they said, as a victim too.
Brandon was born to a meth-addicted mother. When Brandon was 7, he was sent to live with his father -- but Brandon's home life there was no better. A drug addict himself, Brandon's father went on drug-fueled rages, often beating Brandon.
The rages reportedly grew worse in the weeks leading up to the shooting. Brandon, a one-time honor student, stopped turning in his homework and was moved into a remedial English class.
School proved no refuge for Brandon either, his lawyers said. While Larry had been portrayed as a frequent target for bullying by jocks like Brandon, defense lawyers said Larry did his own share of bullying -- and Brandon was often his target.
At Brandon's trial, witnesses testified that Larry blew kisses at Brandon and told him he loved him.
"He was chasing boys around school with his heels. He was touching himself," said lawyer Scott Wippert. "He was doing things that are sexual in nature that you and I would look at you as an adult and say, 'That is inappropriate.'"
Wippert said Larry sexually harassed Brandon on a daily basis.
But Larry's friend, Averi Laskey, said Larry's bullying was motivated by revenge.
"He would not just do it for no reason," she said. "He always did it after they made him cry."
Brandon, Averi said, called Larry names and threatened to hurt him.
"I think he had a hatred towards anyone who wasn't just like him," she said.
In making their case against Brandon, prosecutors argued that Brandon's disgust with his classmate was motivated by an ideology: white supremacy.
On the day of the shooting, police had found in Brandon's backpack a copy of Hitler's "Mein Kampf" and two spiral notebooks with scribbles of Nazi symbols and three letters: "S.S.L."
She told jurors that Brandon associated with a gang of hard core racists who called themselves the S.S.L., similar to Hitler's SS.
The lynchpin of the prosecution's case was Matt Reaume. Reaume, an avowed white separatist, once lived with Brandon's half-brother, James Bing.
"I think [what] they were trying to show is that Matt Reaume educated Brandon on the beliefs of white supremacy, one of which, obviously, is anti-gay," said Zeke Barlow, who covered the case for The Ventura County Star.