LOS ANGELES A Riverside County judge Monday found a 12-year-old boy responsible for killing his neo-Nazi father in 2011, and criticized the boy's family and social workers for not protecting the youngster before he felt compelled to reach for a gun.
"There were so many warning signs," Judge Jean P. Leonard said from the bench.
Leonard said the evidence showed that the boy, who was 10 years old when he pulled the trigger, had the mental capacity to know that killing his father was wrong. He planned the killing, and then tried to conceal his guilt by stashing the gun under his mattress, Leonard noted.
The boy's father, Jeffrey Hall, was a West Coast leader for the neo-Nazi organization known as the National Socialist Movement. The judge said Hall's attempts to indoctrinate his son into the hate group corrupted the thoughts of a boy who already was disturbed and displaying violent tendencies.
The judge now must decide what to do with the boy. Since he was charged as a juvenile, he can be held in state custody only until he is 23. The boy's identity has been withheld by the Times because of his age.
In California, most underage killers are sent to one of three juvenile detention facilities run by the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. The institutions house the state's most violent juvenile offenders. None currently has an inmate under 14 years old.
The boy's attorney, public defender Matthew Hardy, said it would be a "tragedy" if his client were sent to one of the state facilities.
"That's a place that's not a place for children. He'll be spending his time learning how to become a gangbanger or a killer," Hardy said.
The judge indicated she may be open to alternatives, including placing the boy at a facility run by the Riverside County Department of Probation. The youngster's sentencing hearing, known as a "disposition" in juvenile court, is scheduled for Feb. 15.
The boy's attorney said during the trial that Hall, when drunk or high, routinely beat his son. Shortly before he was killed, Hall also threatened to set the house on fire with his children and second wife still inside.
Hardy plans to appeal Monday's ruling, saying he believes the judge erred when she found that the boy had the mental capacity to know shooting his father was wrong.
County social workers visited the Hall family's home more than 20 times, Hardy said, and at the time of the shooting, the boy was a dependent of the court, a designation intended in part to shield him from further abuse.
Early in the morning of May 1, 2011, the youngster crept downstairs with the loaded .357 Magnum revolver, pulled the hammer back and shot his father point-blank in his head as the slept on the family's living room couch.
Anna Salter, a clinical psychologist from Wisconsin who appeared for the prosecution, testified that the boy's mental function and grasp of reality likely was warped while he in the womb, when his mother used heroin, LSD and methamphetamine. The boy's parents divorced shortly after he was born, and Hall was awarded full custody of his son when he was 3 years old.