The Riverside boy who shot and killed his neo-Nazi father had a history of violence since he was a toddler, but there was no indication that his father condoned such brutality, a mental health expert for the prosecution testified Monday.
Clinical psychologist Anna Salter said the boy, who was 10 years old when he pulled the trigger, told her that his father tried hard to get the boy’s violence under control — on occasion beating the child as punishment for an outburst.
“He didn’t know what else to do,” Salter testified during the juvenile court proceeding in Riverside.
The boy’s outbursts included an attempt to strangle a teacher with a telephone cord and stabbing classmates with pencils, Salter testified.
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 said he just wanted to end the father-son thing,” Salter testified.
Salter said the boy, at the time of the shooting, knew that killing his father was wrong, admitting as much to police and his stepmother just hours after the shooting.
Chief Deputy Dist. Atty. Michael Soccio, in his opening statement, argued that the boy coldly plotted to kill his father because he was afraid that 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 began before he was 3 years old, when his outbursts led his grandmother to refuse to baby-sit him.
Salter said the boy’s birth mother reportedly used heroin, LSD and other drugs while she was pregnant and then neglected the boy when he was a baby. Hall and his first wife divorced shortly after the boy was born. Hall won full custody when the boy was 3.
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.
In court, the boy sat fidgeting next to his attorney and a juvenile probation officer. The boyish face of a sandy-haired child has been transformed since he first appeared in court two years ago. He appeared thinner and reportedly lost weight since being placed on medication to control his hyperactivity in juvenile hall, where he has been housed since the shooting.
Salter interviewed the boy for six hours in November and described him as well-behaved and direct. She refuted testimony from the defense psychologist that he had been molested by his father, saying the boy told her that he had no memory of that occurring.
During the interview, the boy accused his stepmother, Krista F. McCary, of telling him to kill Hall. McCary has not been charged in connection with the killing. She was convicted in 2011 of child endangerment and weapons charges and placed on four years’ probation.
Judge Jean P. Leonard must decide whether the child knew that his actions were wrong at the time of the shooting. If she rules that the boy did not comprehend that his actions were wrong, he would be set free. If she finds the boy responsible for the killing, a hearing will be held to determine punishment. He could remain in juvenile custody until he is 23.
Salter said she believes that the boy could still lead a productive life, if he’s 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.”