The murder trial resumes Monday for a 12-year-old Riverside boy accused of shooting his father, neo-Nazi leader Jeffrey Hall, as he slept on the family’s living room couch in May 2011.
The proceeding began in October with testimony that the boy coldly plotted the killing because of fears that his father planned to leave the boy’s stepmother and shatter the family. Hall, an unemployed plumber, allegedly beat and berated his son during drunken rages, his wife and son told investigators.
The trial was delayed to give the prosecution’s mental health expert time to assess the boy’s mental state. Riverside County Superior Court Judge Jean P. Leonard had barred testimony from the prosecution’s initial expert because the psychologist had taken part in a confidential interview of the boy. A new expert has been chosen and is scheduled to testify.
Chief Deputy Dist. Atty. Michael Soccio, in his opening statement, said the sandy-haired boy made a calculated decision to kill his father, making him “no different than any other murderer.” The prosecutor called Hall’s role as a regional director of the National Socialist Movement a “red herring” that was immaterial to the case.
On Monday, Soccio is expected to call clinical psychologist Anna Salter of Madison, Wis., to testify. Salter is a consultant to the Wisconsin Department of Corrections and has expertise in child psychology and sexual abuse.
The fate of the boy, who was 10 at the time of the shooting and has learning disabilities, comes down to whether he realized his actions were wrong when he pulled the trigger.
The boy’s name is not being released by The Times because of his age. He has been charged as a juvenile. If the allegations are found to be true, he could remain in juvenile custody until he is 23.
Public Defender Matthew Hardy argued that the boy’s sense of right and wrong was corrupted from growing up in a household filled with violence and hate. Neo-Nazis frequently gathered at the family home in Riverside, family trips to the shooting range were common, and loaded guns were stashed around the house.
More telling, he said, was that social service investigators never tried to remove the boy from the home after they made more than 20 visits.
“He thought his situation was normal. All this did was confuse the kid even more,” Hardy said in a recent interview. “He decided to kill his dad because he wanted to end the violence, protect the family and, to some extent, be the hero.”
In court, Hardy alleged that the child was manipulated to kill Hall by his stepmother, Krista F. McCary, who worried that her husband would leave her.
The boy told detectives that his plan to kill his father was influenced by an episode of the television show “Criminal Minds,” which chronicles the investigations of a fictional team of FBI profilers. In the videotaped police interview, he said he saw an episode in which a boy killed his abusive father and was not arrested.
“The kid did the exact same thing I did,” he told police during the interview, which was played at the trial.
The boy told police he had grabbed his father’s Rossi .357 magnum revolver from a closet and went downstairs, where his father was asleep on the couch. He pulled the hammer back, aimed the gun at his dad’s ear and pulled the trigger. The boy then stashed the gun under his bed.
Little about the family’s stucco home near UC Riverside differed from the rest of the well-kept suburban neighborhood, though neighbors complained about Hall’s occasional neo-Nazi barbecues and gatherings. Inside, police found dirty clothes strewn across floors, bedrooms smelling of urine, filthy bathrooms and beer bottles littering the downstairs, under the swastika of a National Socialist Movement flag.
“It’s clear that violence is the appropriate way in his world,” psychologist Robert Geffner, a witness for the defense, testified in November. “A repeated theme in conversations with him was killing. Another part of his focus was guns.”
Court records suggest the boy had a history of aggression and violence after Hall and his first wife went through a bitter divorce. Both Hall and his ex-wife, Leticia Neal of Spokane, Wash., accused each other of abusing and neglecting their two children. Hall was granted full custody.
The case will be weighed by the judge, who must decide whether the child knew that his actions were wrong at the time of the shooting. If Leonard 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 murder, a hearing will be held to determine punishment.
If the boy is released, it’s unclear if he would be placed with relatives or in the custody of the department of social services, Hardy said. In August 2011, the boy’s stepmother was convicted of child endangerment and weapons charges and placed on four years’ probation.
McCary, 27, testified earlier in that trial that the boy was violence-prone and difficult to control. Her husband abused drugs and beat the boy more than the other four children living in the home, she told the court.
McCary testified that she was not upset by the possibility that her husband was having an affair. Still, she said, she wanted to end the marriage because of her husband’s mood swings.
“You were never sure which Jeff you were going to get,” she said.
Times’ wire services contributed to this report.