RIVERSIDE, California (Reuters) - Prosecutors rested their case on Monday against a 12-year-old California boy charged with killing his neo-Nazi father, and a defense lawyer said the boy may testify on his own behalf as the trial neared a conclusion.
Defense attorney Matthew Hardy said he would confer with his client, Joseph Hall, before deciding whether to call him as the final witness in the juvenile case, which resumed in Riverside County Superior Court following a two-month break.
The defense concedes that Hall, then 10 years old, shot his father at point blank range in May 2011 but argued that he should not be held criminally responsible. The gun belonged to his father, Jeffrey Hall, 32.
If the boy does not testify, both sides could present closing arguments on Wednesday in a case that has drawn attention because of the father’s neo-Nazi associations and the rarity of a parent being slain by a child so young.
Hardy also formally withdrew a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity and said that he would probably ask for the charges against Hall to be dismissed on the grounds that prosecutors had not proven the boy was culpable.
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 were committed by defendants aged 10 or younger.
Since 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.
‘HE DID KNOW IT WAS WRONG’
The outcome of the case, which is being heard without a jury, hinges in large part on the boy’s understanding of right and wrong at the time. The judge could render a verdict as early as Wednesday or Thursday.
The final witness to testify for the prosecution, clinical psychologist Anna Salter, told the court that she interviewed Hall and concluded that he was not a psychopath and that he understood right from wrong.
“He did know he was wrong (to shoot his father), he said it in many ways, including that night,” Salter said.
She said Hall, who has a borderline low IQ, suffered from a “conduct disorder” and his problems centered around “aggression,” but he was capable of controlling himself.
A psychologist called by the defense testified earlier in the trial that Hall had been conditioned to violence by years of physical, emotional and likely sexual abuse.
Salter agreed that Hall had been abused but told the court that the trigger for the crime was likely fears that his father was breaking up the family.
“I feel the fear of abandonment was a very important trigger. This was the first stable home he had, it would be a huge loss for him,” Salter said.
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 the physical abuse inflicted on him.
Prosecutors say Hall, who lived with four siblings, killed 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.
Writing by Dan Whitcomb; editing by Cynthia Johnston and Christopher Wilson