Boy who shot neo-Nazi father has 'tragic history,' expert says
The 12-year-old Riverside boy who shot and killed his neo-Nazi father had a "tragic history," including violence since he was a toddler, a mental health expert testified Monday.
But, said child psychologist Anna Salter, there was no indication the boy's father condoned such brutality. Salter said the boy, who was 10 when he pulled the trigger, told her his father tried hard to get the boy's violence under control — on occasion beating the child as punishment for an outburst.
The boy's violent acts included an attempt to strangle a teacher with a telephone cord and stabbing classmates with pencils, Salter testified Monday during a juvenile court proceeding in Riverside. Salter testified as a mental health expert for the prosecution.
Jeffrey Hall, regional director of a neo-Nazi organization called the National Socialist Movement, was asleep on his living room couch in May 2011 when his son walked downstairs with a loaded .357 magnum revolver, pulled the hammer back and fired.
Salter told the court she found it "very odd" that Hall had not been threatening the boy at the time — they had spent a "family movie night" together hours earlier. The boy told police, however, that he lived in fear and was tired of his father's beatings.
"He didn't know what else to do," Salter testified.
Chief Deputy Dist. Atty. Michael Soccio, in his opening statement, argued the boy coldly plotted to kill his father because he was afraid Hall was about to divorce the boy's stepmother. Soccio said the boy's actions had nothing to do with Hall's neo-Nazi beliefs.
Public Defender Matthew Hardy, however, countered that the boy's moral compass was warped by living in an abusive, violent household where his father, in drunken rages, beat him regularly and where other neo-Nazis often gathered to celebrate their hate-filled and violent beliefs.
The mental health expert for the defense, psychologist Robert Geffner, testified in November that violence, guns and talk of killing permeated the Hall household, which taught the boy that "violence is the appropriate way in his world."
The prosecution's expert attempted to counter that view Monday, telling the court that the boy's violent streak appeared before he was 3 years old, when his outbursts led his grandmother to refuse to babysit him.
Salter, an expert in child psychology, violence and sexual abuse, was called to testify after the prosecution's initial mental health expert was barred from appearing because he had taken part in a confidential interview of the boy.
Salter said she believed the boy could still lead a productive life, if given proper care.
"I think [the boy] has a tragic history. I think he has had a tragic upbringing," she said. "I don't think [he] is a hopeless case."
Judge Jean P. Leonard must decide whether the child knew his actions were wrong at the time of the shooting. If she rules that he did not comprehend his actions were wrong, he would be set free. If she finds him responsible for the killing, a hearing will be held to determine punishment. He could remain in juvenile custody until he is 23.
— Phil Willon
Photo: Neo-Nazi leaderJeffrey Hall was shot and killed at his home near UC Riverside in 2011. Credit: Sandy Huffaker / Associated Press