A Murder Over a Girl
Justice, Gender, Junior High
The New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice
A psychologist's gripping, troubling, and moving exploration of the brutal murder of a possibly transgender middle school student by an eighth grade classmate
On Feb. 12, 2008, at E. O. Green Junior High in Oxnard, CA, 14-year-old Brandon McInerney shot and killed his classmate, Larry King, who had recently begun to call himself "Leticia" and wear makeup and jewelry to school.
Profoundly shaken by the news, and unsettled by media coverage that sidestepped the issues of gender identity and of race integral to the case, psychologist Ken Corbett traveled to LA to attend the trial. As visions of victim and perpetrator were woven and unwoven in the theater of the courtroom, a haunting picture emerged not only of the two young teenagers, but also of spectators altered by an atrocity and of a community that had unwittingly gestated a murder. Drawing on firsthand observations, extensive interviews and research, as well as on his decades of academic work on gender and sexuality, Corbett holds each murky facet of this case up to the light, exploring the fault lines of memory and the lacunae of uncertainty behind facts. Deeply compassionate, and brimming with wit and acute insight, A Murder Over a Girl is a riveting and stranger-than-fiction drama of the human psyche.
Psychologist Corbett (Boyhoods) recounts, with riveting clarity and deep humanity, the 2011 trial of Brandon McInerney for fatally shooting his 15-year-old classmate Larry King during their middle-school English class in Oxnard, Calif., in 2008. But as he brings careful precision and a trained clinical eye to the desperate, painful facts of the shooter and victim Brandon, white, from a broken and violent home, was 14 at the time of the shooting and beginning to exhibit white supremacist loyalties; Larry, mixed-race, removed from his adoptive home on charges of abuse, had just begun to identify as transgender Corbett also excavates the chilling and dangerous beliefs that led the defense to construct a persuasive story of a "normal" boy pushed over the edge of self-control by a flamboyant "queer." He draws out the suspense of the courtroom drama by intertwining his professional knowledge of adolescents, gender, and trauma with empathetic portraits of the people involved, and he recounts his personal struggle to understand the case as it unfolds. Corbett depicts these events as a story in which emotion outweighs logic and ethics, in which exhibiting gender variance is a worse crime than hatred, and in which the human mind makes sense of something confounding through denial and erasure. Profound and disturbing, this heartbreaking testimony of our culture's worst fissures suggests that understanding is the only way to heal.