The 10-year-old son of a Riverside neo-Nazi leader was just another killer when he shot his sleeping father on the couch on an early May morning last year, a prosecutor told a judge Tuesday.
Sitting unshackled, the now 12-year-old boy listened as Chief Deputy Dist. Atty. Michael Soccio told a Riverside County judge that the sandy-haired boy knew that killing his father, Jeffrey Hall, 32, was wrong.
Hall’s role as a regional director of the National Socialist Movement is simply a “red herring,” he said.
The boy “is no different than any other murderer,” Soccio said in his opening statement. He “would have shot his father if he was a member of the Peace and Freedom Party.”
But Public Defender Matthew Hardy said the boy, who had learning disabilities, pulled the trigger after being manipulated to kill Hall by his stepmother, Krista F. McCary. Hardy portrayed her as angry over the possibility her husband was about to leave her for another woman.
“We are not going to suggest she killed him,” Hardy told the judge. “She used this young man to kill him.”
The boy, whose name is not being released by The Times because he is a juvenile, has been charged with murder. If the allegations against the boy are found to be true, he could remain in juvenile custody until he is 23.
During his opening statement, Soccio portrayed the family as rather normal, showing the court several photos, including one of the family frolicking in the surf.
Soccio said the boy shot his father with a .357 magnum revolver because he believed Hall was about to leave McCary and take custody of the boy. So, Soccio said, he “found a way to stop it.”
While on a backyard swing set the day before, the defendant told one of his sisters about the plan, Soccio said.
Superior Court Judge Jean P. Leonard, who is acting as a juvenile judge in the case, must rule that the child knew that his actions were wrong at the time of the shooting to find the murder allegations true.
Hardy argued that the child’s sense of right and wrong was clouded by the household in which he lived, where National Socialist Movement meetings took place, guns were accessible and beatings were regular. The upbringing conditioned the boy to violence, he said.
In the end, Hardy argued, the child believed that he was protecting his family and putting an end to the violence Hall inflicted upon them. The boy thought he would become a “hero,” Hardy said.
“He would not have pulled the trigger if he thought it was wrong,” Hardy said.
Riverside Police Officer Michael Foster, a prosecution witness, testified that the child expressed remorse on the day of the shooting.
“He asked me things like ‘Do people get more than one [life]?’ ” he told the court.
McCary, 27, said Tuesday that she viewed the boy as her son, and he shared that view, calling her mother.
She testified that the boy knew right from wrong, was difficult to control and was prone to violent outbursts. Her husband, a plumber who was unemployed at the time of the killing, abused drugs and beat the boy more than the other children; when he was intoxicated, the family would go to another room to avoid him, she said.
McCary said she had an “open relationship” with her husband and was not angered by the possibility of his relationship with another woman. Still, she said, she expressed a desire to end the marriage because of her husband’s mood swings.
“You were never sure which Jeff you were going to get,” she said.
In the early morning hours of May 1, 2011, McCary testified, she came downstairs after hearing a bang.
“When I flicked on the lights, I could see blood on the floor,” she testified.
The family’s suburban home near UC Riverside blended in with the well-kept neighborhood. But neighbors complained about Hall’s occasional neo-Nazi gatherings and police discovered filthy bathrooms, bedrooms smelling of urine and a National Socialist Movement flag hanging above strewn beer bottles.
After McCary found her husband bleeding on the couch, she testified, the boy admitted shooting him.
“He said ‘I shot dad.’ ”
“I said, ‘Why?’ ”
“He didn’t answer.”