A California boy found guilty of murdering his neo-Nazi father at age 10 is expected to learn on Friday whether he will spend the rest of his youth in a juvenile jail or be allowed to be incarcerated in a private facility or group home.
Joseph Hall, 12, was convicted of second-degree murder for shooting his father at point blank range in May 2011, killing him as he slept, in a case that made headlines because of the father’s neo-Nazi ties and the rarity of a parent being killed by a child so young.
The boy’s father Jeffrey Hall, 32, was a regional director of the National Socialist Movement, a white separatist group, and Joseph Hall’s trial centered on allegations of abuse and the young defendant’s grasp of right and wrong.
Riverside County Superior Court Judge Jean Leonard, who heard the juvenile case without a jury, could send him to the Department of Juvenile Justice, where he would be the youngest child in custody and where he would likely remain until age 23.
Hall’s family and other law and child experts say this would not be in the best interest of the child, although his lawyer acknowledges it may be the most likely placement. They prefer a treatment facility that might see him released sooner.
“It’s an absolutely awful place,” defense attorney Matthew Hardy said of the Department of Juvenile Justice option. “Joseph ending up there would be terrible. It’s a hell hole. Throwing him in there with his background would guarantee he’d never have a chance. He’ll be living with the worst of the worst.”
Hall has a history of severe aggressive behavior, which resulted in home schooling.
“He needs the treatment he can get in a placement facility if he’s ever going to be a happy, productive member of society. This won’t be a good environment for him with the problems he has,” Hall’s paternal grandmother, JoAnn Becker told Reuters.
FAR FROM HOME
Defense attorneys had argued during the trial that Hall should not be held responsible for his actions because a lifetime of abuse and his father’s neo-Nazi activities had conditioned him to violence.
But prosecutors said that the boy, who lived with four siblings, shot his father because he thought he was planning to divorce his stepmother and break up the family. Hall shot his father with the man’s own gun.
With a finding of murder two as opposed to the voluntary manslaughter that the defense was striving for, the court has concluded that Hall knew that what he was doing was wrong at the time he pulled the trigger.
Sue Burrell, staff attorney at the Youth Law Center in San Francisco, told Reuters that none of the children incarcerated at the Department of Juvenile Justice by late 2012 were under age 13.
With only three such facilities in California, Hall could end up in a facility in Stockton, far from his home and family, where younger offenders are most often sent.
Hardy, who plans to appeal the conviction, said another option would be private placement while an unlikely third option is for a placement out of state, possibly in a group home.
Riverside County Chief Deputy District Attorney Michael Soccio said his “first priority is public safety,” but that ideally he’d like to see Hall go to a secure facility but also have access to rehabilitative care someone as troubled as Hall would ostensibly need to re-enter society.
“If there’s a facility with the same type of security along with assistance for him, I have no opposition to that. I want Joseph to get any help that’s possibly available to him.” (Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Lisa Shumaker)