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Alleging bias, defense wants judge removed from Oxnard teen's slaying case

Brandon McInerney's lawyers say Ventura County Superior Court Judge Charles Campbell exhibits pro-prosecution bias in his rulings in the slaying of gay student Larry King.

August 19, 2011|By Steve Chawkins, Los Angeles Times
  • Defense attorney Scott Wippert speaks to members of the media outside Superior Court in Chatsworth last month.
Defense attorney Scott Wippert speaks to members of the media outside Superior… (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles…)

Court closed dramatically in the Brandon McInerney homicide trial Thursday after the youth's defense attorneys sought to have Ventura County Superior Court Judge Charles Campbell thrown off the case for alleged pro-prosecution bias.

The motion was filed as the lengthy trial lumbers toward an end. Campbell halted the proceedings in a Chatsworth courtroom until Friday so defense attorneys Robyn Bramson and Scott Wippert can recover from illnesses.

Under California law, judges must submit written answers to such motions within 10 days. Ultimately, a ruling comes from a judge approved by both sides or chosen by the California Judicial Council. But, meanwhile, a challenged judge may continue hearing cases.

McInerney, 17, is accused in the 2008 classroom shooting of Larry King, a fellow eighth-grader at E.O. Green Junior High School in Oxnard.

King, who was 15 at the time, had started wearing high heels and makeup, and, according to testimony, was making suggestive remarks that angered McInerney.

In Thursday's 14-page motion, the defense attorneys accused Campbell of rudeness toward them and "scowling" as they tried to make their points at sidebars during court.

The judge has repeatedly given prosecutors leeway he has denied them in scheduling witnesses, admitting evidence and other procedural matters, they said.

They also alleged that the judge "clearly insinuated a threat" related to questioning of a witness as they battered away this week at prosecution claims that McInerney, who is charged with a hate crime, was driven partly by neo-Nazi beliefs.

According to defense attorneys, Campbell was angered by their insistence on asking a white-supremacy expert why their client, who was allegedly under the sway of vicious anti-gay dogma, did not also shoot Marina C., a classmate who testified she was openly gay.

The judge thought the question was irrelevant, they said. Ultimately, he allowed it.

But in conference with the lawyers, he "warned" that in doing so he would allow prosecutors to then raise questions about the sexual orientation of another key witness, the motion said.

That area of inquiry, which according to the motion would have "outed" the witness, had not been raised by prosecutors or anyone else at the trial.

The motion suggested that the judge also harbors a bias against gays, saying he had referred to Larry King as "queer" in a court sidebar. Prosecutor Maeve Fox declined to comment.

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