(Note: Brandon McInerney was convicted of murdering 15-year-old Larry King, a classmate at E.O. Green School in Oxnard California. The tragic shooting drew the attention of the national media. Here, attorney Robyn Bramson , one of the lawyers who represented McInerney, writes about the case and about the “redemption” of their client.)
By Robyn Bramson
I’m not quite sure why I was drawn to watch it on that particular evening, but something inside was pushing me to watch it again.
When I selected Shawshank among the other possible movie options available, Scott Wippert, my law partner and co-counsel in the Brandon McInerney case thought it was a rather dark movie to watch given the festive and celebratory nature of the Fourth.
On the evening of this past Fourth of July I watched The Shawshank Redemption. Of course I’ve probably seen The Shawshank Redemption at least a dozen times, but I hadn’t watched it in years.
I respectfully disagreed with him, and we ended up watching it together.
I remember when I watched the Shawshank Redemption years ago, what struck me of course was the unjustness of Tim Robbins’ character,
Andy Dufresne, being wrongly convicted and incarcerated for life in prison for two murders that he did not commit. That is probably the impact that the movie had on many, if not most people who saw it, and likely the message they took from it.
This time when I watched it, however, something else drew my attention and triggered my emotions. This time I was much more enthralled by Morgan Freeman’s character, Red. This time, I believe, was the first time I’d watched The Shawshank Redemption since meeting Brandon McInerney and since trying, and later resolving Brandon’s case.
Red, like Andy, was a “lifer” at Shawshank Prison for murder. Unlike Andy though, Red, by his own admission, had in fact killed someone. Even when this becomes known, which is fairly early on in the movie, even though Red indisputably took the life of another human being,
Red remains a likable, if not lovable character. Why? I think the answer is because as we watch the movie and get to know Red we come to understand that a person is much more than a crime that they committed. And this very thing is precisely what Scott and I knew and continue to know of Brandon McInerney.
When Brandon McInerney had just barely turned 14, he shot and killed Larry King, his Eighth grade classmate. It was then and will always be a tragedy, and one which unfortunately cannot be undone. If he could, I know that Brandon would undo it in a heartbeat.
In The Shawshank Redemption Red says, “every man has his breaking point”.
What Scott and I know about Brandon, the horrific abuse and neglect he had long been experiencing at home at the hands of his family, the facts and circumstances and lack of action or intervention that occurred at the junior high school where the shooting took place, which surrounded and lead up to the offense, is that Brandon reached “his breaking point.”
Every man has his breaking point, so does every child.
California Law on Charging a Juvenile as an Adult
Under California Law a juvenile can be charged as an adult for conduct they are alleged to have engaged in when they were a mere 14-years-old, which Brandon had just turned a couple of weeks before he shot Larry King.
Had the incident occurred a few weeks before, the law would have required that he be charged in juvenile court, which would have jurisdiction over him until his 25th birthday. If that had been the case, Brandon would have been incarcerated in prison for juveniles for over 10 years of his life.
When the Ventura County District Attorney elected, without hesitation or any meaningful exercise of discretion to file Brandon’s case directly in adult court, Brandon’s exposure accordingly became 50+years to life in prison.
If convicted, in our opinion given everything Scott and I know to be true about the parole process, Brandon would never have gotten out of prison, ever. The thought of this was entirely unbearable to Scott and me, and absolutely unjust knowing how amazing and smart Brandon was and the enormous potential he had, if only he could one day get out of prison.
This then, saving Brandon from a lifetime of incarceration, became the goal to be achieved, the intention to be manifested.
The Ventura County District Attorney’s Plea Deal
The Ventura County District Attorney wanted Brandon to plead guilty to first degree murder, and a hate crime, I believe, and agree to a prison sentence of 25 years to life.
Any offer that has what Scott and I refer to as “a life tail” means this: that person becomes eligible for parole after 25 years (or after that number of years specified before the “to life” language), but the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitations (CDCR), the parole board specifically, makes the determination as to whether or not the individual will be released on parole.
These “lifers” do not get out of prison, or at least rarely do in our humble opinions. Even if the parole board determines that the individual should be granted parole, the governor must then approve the parole board’s determination and has the absolute power to reject it.
This whole process as far as we can tell is absolutely arbitrary and entirely unlikely to result in a person regaining their liberty. This was our opinion in Brandon’s case.
Thus, the Ventura County District Attorney’s offer was entirely illusory. Had he accepted this offer, Brandon would never have gotten out of prison, even had he literally walked on water from the day he set foot in prison for the next 25 and beyond.
The Shawshank Redemption and Reality
This is where The Shawshank Redemption differs from reality, for Red did eventually get out on parole. And yet it doesn’t seem to bother us viewers that Red finally gets released on parole. In fact, I think most of us, if not all of us are holding our breath and crossing our fingers while watching The Shawshank Redemption hoping that Red will get out.
Fortunately, he does. And this is all that Scott and I wanted and fought for tirelessly in Brandon’s case. All we wanted was a date certain that Brandon could hold on to in his mind knowing that he would get out when that date finally arrived. This did not seem to us, an unreasonable request.
I can’t speak for the jurors who did their civic duty in Brandon’s case over the course of several weeks, listening to and sorting through all the evidence that was presented by both the prosecution and the defense.
Nor can I speak for those jurors who went on to attend subsequent hearings in the Ventura County Superior Court, who showed up in support of Brandon after the jury was unable to reach a unanimous verdict, which then resulted in a hung jury and the court declaring a mistrial.
I think though, that they were able to see, over the course of People v. Brandon McInerney that which we had come to understand over the course of The Shawshank Redemption. A truth simply and eloquently stated by Red to the parole board at Shawshank Prison:
“I look back on the way I was then, a young stupid kid who committed that terrible crime. I wanna talk to him. I wanna try and talk some sense to him. Tell him the way things are. But I can’t. That kid’s long gone, and this old man is all that’s left. I gotta live with that.”
Brandon McInerney Will Be Nearly 40 Years Old When He Leaves Prison
Brandon McInerney was our client to whom we owed a duty of loyalty and zealous advocacy. Everything we did during the course of our representation of him was in keeping with those duties.
To this day, Scott and I think of Brandon as a friend, and an extraordinary young man with a bright and promising future. Like Red, Brandon is so much more than the crime that he committed as a kid.
Neither Scott nor I can wait for the day that Brandon is released from prison and is a free man. Scott had said that his goal was for Brandon to one day be able to go to the beach and feel the sand beneath his feet. That picture is etched in my mind as well.
It’ll still be a long time before that happens. Pursuant to the plea agreement with the district attorney that both sides and the court agreed to, Brandon will be almost 40 years old before he gets out of prison.
All this time, from when he was barely 14-years-old and locked up until the day he is ultimately released from prison is a time for redemption. And Scott and I have utter faith in the redemption of Brandon McInerney.
We think everyone else should too.
Attorneys Robyn Bramson and Scott Wippert are lawyers in Ventura, California