Abuse led to killing of neo-Nazi father, judge says
The judge who found a 12-year-old Riverside boy criminally responsible for murdering his neo-Nazi father said Monday that years of abuse and neglect clearly had damaged the child’s thought process, but that she could not ignore evidence that showed he plotted the attack and knew that killing was wrong.
Riverside County Superior Court Judge Jean P. Leonard found the boy guilty of second-degree murder and for using a gun while committing a felony.
The youngster, who was 10 when he put a gun to his sleeping father's head and pulled the trigger, was charged as a juvenile. He could be held in juvenile detention until he is 23.
The boy’s father, Jeffrey Hall, was a West Coast leader for the neo-Nazi organization known as the National Socialist Movement. He was asleep on a couch in the early morning hours of May 1, 2011, when his son crept downstairs with Hall’s .357 magnum revolver and shot his father point-blank in the head.
The judge said Hall’s attempts to indoctrinate his son into the hate group corrupted the thought process of a disturbed boy who already had displayed violent tendencies.
“It’s clear that this minor knows more than the average child about guns, hate and violence,’’ Leonard said.
Still, she added, “this is not a naive little boy unaware of the ways of the world.’’
The boy attended neo-Nazi events with his father, associated with a hooded member of the Ku Klux Klan and went on “patrol” along the Mexican border to look for illegal immigrants, according to court records.
A juvenile disposition hearing is scheduled for Feb. 15.
Most juveniles found responsible for second-degree murder would be sent to one of the three juvenile detention facilities run by the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. The institutions house California’s most violent juvenile offenders and none currently has any juvenile under 14 years old.
The judge indicated, however, that she would consider alternative placements, such as a secure facility run by the Riverside County Department of Probation in Indio. The boy’s attorney, public defender Matthew Hardy, said it would be a “tragedy” if his client was sent to one of the state facilities.
“That’s a place that’s not a place for children,’’ Hardy told reporters afterward. "He’ll be spending his time learning how to be a gangbanger or a killer.’’
Hardy plans to appeal Monday’s ruling, saying he believes the judge erred when she found that the boy had the mental capacity to know shooting his father was wrong.
Hardy said the boy made conflicting statements to police hours after the shooting, at one point saying he believed his father would recover and rejoin the family.
Hardy said the boy also clearly stated he was trying to defend his family from Hall, who had routinely beaten his son and, shortly before the shooting, threatened to burn down the family’s Riverside home with his wife and children inside.
“He didn’t think it was wrong; he thought it was justified," Hardy said about his client. “He thought he had to do it.’’
Testimony and evidence in the case, which began in October, revolved around the boy's upbringing and a family life steeped in the hatred and violence of the neo-Nazi movement. Psychologists focused on whether those circumstances altered the boy's capacity to realize that killing his father was wrong.
Chief Deputy Dist. Atty. Michael Soccio argued that the boy plotted to kill his father because of fears that the father was about to divorce the boy's stepmother and break up the family. Soccio presented evidence that the boy expressed remorse hours after the shooting.
After Monday’s ruling, Soccio said it was a very difficult case to prosecute, emotionally, given the age of the boy and the abuse and neglect he had sustained for most of his life.
Still, Soccio said, the boy remains a threat to society. Before shooting his father, the youngster was expelled from eight schools for violent outbursts, including an attempt to strangle a teacher with a phone cord, according to evidence presented at the trial.
“I think he is a very dangerous boy," Soccio said.
-- Phil Willon in RiversidePhoto: Jeffrey Hall holds a neo-Nazi flag while standing at Sycamore Highlands Park near his home in Riverside in 2010. Credit: Sandy Huffaker / Associated Press