A California judge has found a 12-year-old boy criminally responsible for murdering his neo-Nazi father.
Joseph Hall was just 10 years-old when he shot and killed his white supremacist father, Jeffrey, in the early hours of 1 May 2011. The verdict, delivered yesterday, which pronounced Joseph guilty of second-degree murder, means that the young defendant could be incarcerated in a juvenile facility until he is 23 years-old.
Judge Jean Leonard, who heard the juvenile court case without a jury, made her ruling following a trial that turned on whether the boy was fully cognisant of right and wrong when he used a .357 revolver to shoot his 32-year-old father in the head at point blank range, as he dozed on a sofa at the family’s home in Riverside County, 60 miles east of Los Angeles.
Prosecutors insisted that the killing was premeditated, and that Hall knew precisely what he was doing despite his young age. But his defence lawyer, Matthew Hardy, argued that the Hall household was defined by physical abuse, and that his client believed shooting his father would put an end to that violence. Last week Hardy withdrew Hall’s initial plea of not guilty by reason of insanity, and instead urged the judge to convict him of voluntary manslaughter. Joseph Hall chose not to testify at the trial.
Jeff Hall, an unemployed plumber with Nazi insignia tattooed on his head, was a regional director for the National Socialist Movement, which advocates the expulsion of Jews and non-white citizens from the US. He had taken his young son on night-time “patrols” of the Mexican border, donning night-vision goggles and combat clothing in a bid to detain illegal immigrants. The boy attended rallies during his father’s unsuccessful campaign for election to the local water board, at which the pair performed Nazi salutes together.
They also shared the family home – decorated with swastikas and Nazi memorabilia – with four siblings and Joseph’s stepmother, Krista McCary. A psychologist acting as a witness for the defence claimed the boy was conditioned to violence by repeated beatings from his father, as well as emotional and even sexual abuse. He was expelled from several schools, in one instance for trying to strangle a teacher with a telephone cord.
The prosecution, however, called the descriptions of Jeff’s abuse, “fiction, a smoke-screen, a red herring.” Riverside County Deputy District Attorney Michael Soccio told the court, “Joseph was not raised in the home described by the defence.” Instead, Soccio suggested, the boy killed his father because Jeff was planning to divorce McCary, to whom Joseph was close.
On the night in question, a documentary-maker was at the Hall house to capture footage of a meeting of the local National Socialist party, hosted by the victim. The footage shows a skinny, blonde Joseph listening closely to the party members’ speeches. After his father’s colleagues left, the boy returned to the room with the snub-nosed handgun that detectives later found under his bed. When police arrived at the scene, he was cowering beneath his duvet. “This father and son thing had to come to an end,” he said as he was arrested.
According to experts, 8,000 murder victims in the US in the past 32 years were killed by their children, but 16 such crimes were committed by defendants aged 10 or younger. “He’s been conditioned to violence,” Hardy told the New York Times before the trial. “He thought what he was doing was right, and while that may be hard for other people to understand, in his mind, in a child's mind, if he thought it was right, or at least didn't think it was wrong, then he cannot be held responsible.”