RIVERSIDE, California (Reuters) - A lawyer for a California boy accused of murdering his neo-Nazi father urged a judge on Wednesday to convict his client of a lesser charge of voluntary manslaughter, citing what he termed an abusive upbringing.
But a prosecutor told the court that Joseph Hall, who both sides agree shot his father at point blank range in May 2011 when he was 10 years old, knew at the time his actions were wrong, and that abuse allegations cited by the defense were a diversion.
“Joseph was not raised in the home described by the defense here,” Riverside County Deputy District Attorney Michael Soccio said during his closing remarks in the high-profile trial. “It doesn’t exist. It’s fiction, a smoke screen, a red herring.”
Defense lawyers concede that Hall, now 12, shot his 32-year-old father, a regional director of the National Socialist Movement, with his own gun, but argue that the boy should not be held criminally responsible.
The case in Riverside, 60 miles east of Los Angeles, has made headlines because of Jeffrey Hall’s neo-Nazi associations and the rarity of a parent being killed by a child so young.
Kathleen Heide, a criminologist who specializes in juvenile offenders, has said that 8,000 murder victims over the past 32 years were slain by their offspring, but only 16 of those crimes were committed by defendants aged 10 or younger.
Riverside County Superior Court Judge Jean Leonard, who is hearing the juvenile case without a jury, was expected to render her verdict on Monday.
Because Hall is a minor, the purpose of the trial is not to determine guilt or innocence, but whether certain allegations about his motives are true. If he is found responsible for the crime, he could be sent to a juvenile facility until he is 23.
Defense lawyers have said the boy was conditioned by his father’s violent, racist behavior and that he killed him to put an end to physical abuse.
Defense attorney Matthew Hardy - who on Monday withdrew his young client’s plea of not guilty by reason of insanity - told Leonard that Hall should be convicted of voluntary manslaughter because he was essentially acting in self-defense.
Hardy displayed a photo of Hall, his father and an unidentified young girl standing with a man who was wearing Ku Klux Klan robes. Hall was holding a toy gun in the picture.
“I put this photo up to show the type of conditioning Joseph had,” he said. “This young man never had a chance in his life. He was pre-programmed to act immorally.”
A psychologist called as a witness by the defense testified during the trial that the boy had been conditioned to violence by years of physical, emotional and likely sexual abuse.
But Soccio called Jeffrey Hall a “loving father” who taught his son to be nonviolent despite his own neo-Nazi ties, and said the boy “made the choice” to kill.
Prosecutors say Hall, who lived with four siblings, shot his father because he thought he was planning to divorce his stepmother, Krista McCary. Prosecutors said the boy was close to McCary and considered her his true mother.
“The proper finding should be murder,” he said. “The evidence is ample that it was premeditated and planned.”
Writing by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Eric Walsh