An abused Riverside boy who fatally shot his neo-Nazi father while the man was sleeping was convicted today of second-degree murder.
Joseph Hall, 12, put a bullet through the head of 32-year-old Jeff
Russell Hall in the predawn hours of May 1, 2011, in what Riverside County
Superior Court Judge Jean Leonard said was a planned attack sparked after the elder Hall threatened to break up his marriage and abandon his family.
"The minor knew what he did was wrong," said Leonard, who presided in
the non-jury bench trial that concluded last week. "He put the barrel of a
handgun to his father's head and pulled the trigger. There was planning and
understanding in the commission of this crime."
Along with the murder count, Leonard found true sentence-enhancing gun
and great bodily injury allegations. She scheduled a dispositional hearing in
the case for Feb. 15.
The county Department of Probation was directed to draw up a pre-
sentencing report listing options for Joseph's placement. The boy is expected to be incarcerated to age 23.
During his closing statement Wednesday, Deputy District Attorney Mike
Soccio described Joseph's state of mind prior to the crime, recalling the
youth's statements to police that he laid awake thinking about killing his dad.
"He told investigators that he `thought this thing between father and
son had to end,"' Soccio said. "Is there anything unclear about that
Joseph was just shy of his 11th birthday when he took Jeff Hall's revolver, crept to the downstairs sofa where the drunken man was sleeping and
Soccio characterized the deadly assault at the Lauder Court home as
premeditated, saying the boy perpetrated it for the same reasons he'd
perpetrated earlier violent acts, to get what he wanted. In this case, his
father out of the picture.
The prosecutor recounted how Joseph had choked a teacher, stabbed his
younger sister and struck his uncle in the head with a club.
"He didn't like people who told him he couldn't do things," Soccio
said. "There's strong evidence that he has the capacity to pick and choose
when he wants to follow the rules."
Deputy Public Defender Matt Hardy said Joseph was the product of an
abusive environment, receiving no treatment for a neurological disorder tied to his mother's alcohol consumption when she was pregnant with him and being shown from an early age that "violence was an acceptable way to solve problems."
"He was kept in an environment where he was conditioned to use
violence. He learned that from his dad," Hardy said, referring to Jeff Hall's
neo-Nazi activities and alleged penchant for "slapping, hitting and yelling"
at his oldest child.
"This young man never had a chance," the attorney said. "He was
genetically programmed to commit violence."
He argued that on the night of the shooting, Joseph and his siblings
overheard Jeff Hall boast that he would "remove all the smoke alarms and burn down the house," threatening to kill his entire family. The statement was made following an argument between the inebriated man and his wife, then-25-year-old Krista McCary, who openly despaired about what might happen if Hall divorced her, according to testimony.
Hardy said Joseph reacted to both his stepmother's anxiety and his
father's arguably hollow threats to kill them all.
The attorney asked the judge to rule his client's actions were done in
self-defense, or at the very least met the definition of involuntary manslaughter given the boy's fractured reasoning.