A hearing began Friday to determine where a 13-year-old boy found guilty of killing his neo-Nazi father will spend the next decade of his life.
Prosecutors are arguing that he be placed in a state-run juvenile justice center, but his attorneys say such facilities are not equipped to handle the boy's severe emotional and social disabilities. They have proposed other options, including private facilities.
A Riverside County judge found in January that the boy — who was 10 when he shot his father, Jeffrey Hall, in the head as he slept on a couch in the family's living room — possessed the mental capacity to know that killing his father was wrong. He was found guilty of second-degree murder and using a gun while committing a felony.
The boy, who was charged as a juvenile, can be held in state custody until he is 23. The Times is withholding his identity because of his age.
"Somebody needs to make sure he can't murder other people," Riverside County Chief Deputy Dist. Atty. Michael Soccio said in an interview after Friday's testimony. The placement options advocated by the boy's attorneys were "not sufficient to deal with that level of violence," Soccio said.
Soccio said the boy's killing of his father was not an isolated outburst but that the boy, who Soccio said had changed schools nine times before the killing, had demonstrated "violent propensities."
In one instance, he attempted to strangle a teacher with a phone cord. When he was a toddler, his grandmother refused to baby-sit him because of how difficult he was to control.
But, Soccio said, the boy has developed since his incarceration.
"I think it's important he stays on the course he's on," Soccio said. "He's improved tremendously."
The boy's lawyer, Punam Grewal, did not dispute the boy's history of violence or the need to keep him in a secure environment. The boy, she told The Times, "cannot be released into the community."
But she said a Division of Juvenile Justice facility was not an appropriate place for him. She said he has had conflicts with other youths during his incarceration and has also been fearful for his safety.
The boy "has considerable, pervasive and complicated disabilities," she said — the byproduct, she noted, of a decade of abuse at the hands of his father.
Hall was a West Coast leader for the neo-Nazi organization known as the National Socialist Movement. During the trial, an attorney for the boy said Hall had routinely beaten his son. Shortly before Hall was killed, he had threatened to leave the family and to set the house on fire with his children and wife inside.
The boy, his attorneys argued, probably believed he was acting to protect his family when, on the morning of May 1, 2011, he shot his father point-blank in the head.
During Friday's hearing, a probation officer who'd been asked by the judge to look into possible placements — including two as far away as Texas — said the facilities weren't locked down.
Although they had guards, they wouldn't be allowed to touch, much less restrain, the boy, and there would be nothing to keep him from fleeing.
At one facility, an administrator asked if the probation officer was inquiring regarding the boy's case. If so, the administrator said, the facility couldn't take him because of the notoriety.
"We're aware that [the child] is a difficult placement," Grewal said. "It's important we ensure we put him in the right place for the next 10 years."
During Friday's testimony, the gangly, sandy-haired boy sat quietly next to his lawyers. Despite his history of violence — and his disabilities — Grewal contends he shows promise.
"We know he wants to learn, we know he tries to participate in his education. He's not shut down and withdrawn," she said, adding that he considers himself a devout Christian and that his first request when she began serving as his lawyer was for a new Bible.
"The child's intent is to have a better life," Grewal said. "He's got a very strong spirit."
Testimony resumes Tuesday.
Rojas reported from Riverside, Serna from Los Angeles.