A ten-year-old boy who used a snub-nosed revolver to shoot his neo-Nazi father in the head "thought that what he was doing was right," and therefore "cannot be held responsible" for the crime of murder, his attorneys have claimed.
Joseph Hall went on trial yesterday accused of killing his father, Jeff, who had been asleep on the sofa of his family home in Riverside County, California, when the fatal shot was fired in the early hours of 1 May last year. The child was cowering under his duvet when police arrived, with a still-warm .357 revolver under his bed. He swiftly confessed to the killing, saying that he wanted to end a cycle of physical abuse. "This father and son thing had to come to an end," he told detectives.
Now 12, Joseph is said by his defence to have been suffering neurological and psychological difficulties and had also been exposed to repeated beatings in the home, which he shared with a stepmother and four siblings. "He's been conditioned to violence," Joseph's lawyer Matthew Hardy told the New York Times. "You have to ask yourself: Did this kid really know that this act was wrong based on all those things? 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."
Like many juvenile cases, his trial will be presided over by a judge who, in the absence of a jury, must decide whether the child is guilty or innocent. If convicted of murder, Joseph could be held in custody until the age of 25.
The case will shed light on the National Socialist Movement, a small but noisy far-right organisation which aims to expel Jews and non-white citizens from the US. Jeff Hall, an unemployed plumber, was one of its most prominent members. Mr Hall, who had tattoos of Nazi insignia on his head, had stood unsuccessfully for election to the local water board.
During the campaign, he took Joseph to rallies at which they performed Nazi salutes together. Despite his age, Joseph had also been allowed to join his father on night-time patrols of the Mexican border. Armed, and wearing night-vision goggles and combat gear, they attempted to detain illegal immigrants.
On the eve of the killing, Jeff, who was 32, held a party meeting at his house. Footage of the event, filmed by a documentary-maker, showed the skinny, blonde-haired Joseph listening intently to speeches in a living room decorated with swastikas.
Although he was too small to fit into prison-issue clothes when first arrested, Joseph has since grown taller and heavier and "is going to be a big man," says the prosecution. He had a history of violence, and was expelled from several schools, on one occasion for attempting to strangle a teacher with a telephone cord.
"There's a sweet side" to the child, admitted prosecutor Michael Soccio. But he argued that the killing was deliberate and premeditated. "It was carried out in a cold, killing fashion," he told reporters. "It is a murder."