A 13-year-old Riverside boy who fatally shot his drunken neo-Nazi father as he slept will serve his sentence at a state juvenile correctional facility, a judge ruled today.
Joseph Hall fatally shot 32-year-old Jeff Russell Hall as the man slept on a sofa in the living room of his family home in May 2011. In January, Riverside County Superior Court Judge Jean Leonard ruled that Joseph committed the murder and planned it ahead of time.
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Prosecutors and defense attorneys, however, disagreed over where the boy should serve out his sentence, with the prosecution arguing during a three-day hearing for a state-operated detention center and the defense calling for an alternative-placement center with more educational and treatment programs in Utah.
After today's ruling, Deputy District Attorney Mike Soccio said the boy cannot stay in the state facility past age 23, and he could be eligible for parole in seven years or earlier depending on his behavior. If he had been an adult, Joseph could have faced 40 years to life in prison for the second-degree murder conviction.
"This has been the hardest case I've prosecuted," Soccio said.
Defense attorney Punam Grewal decried Leonard's decision, calling it a "miscarriage of justice" that ignores the overwhelming evidence of Joseph's disabilities and the 10 years he spent in an abusive household. Her youthful client was also overcharged, Grewal said.
Sending Joseph to a state correctional facility will only expose him to gang members and other hardened felons, according to Grewal, who vowed to file an appeal.
"This is an antiquated court," she said. "(Leonard) got it wrong. We knew she would get it wrong. ... It's a horrible outcome."
Grewal told the court during her closing argument Wednesday that Joseph would benefit most from being in the Copper Hills Youth Center in West Jordan, Utah, a "structured" environment where his mental health, emotional and educational needs can all be addressed.
But Soccio argued that the O.H. Close Youth Correctional Facilty in Stockon, a state-operated detention center that's home to around 240 adolescent offenders, is where Joseph belongs.
During today's hearing, Soccio asked the judge for permission to visit Joseph while he's serving his sentence, saying it was hard not to get attached to the boy.
Joseph was just shy of his 11 birthday when he took Jeff Hall's .357 revolver, crept to the downstairs sofa where the drunken man was sleeping and shot him in the predawn hours of May 1, 2011.
During the boy's trial last year, Soccio recalled prior acts of violence that Joseph perpetrated, including choking a teacher, stabbing his younger sister and hitting his uncle in the head with a club.
"He didn't like people who told him he couldn't do things," Soccio said.
Deputy Public Defender Matthew Hardy countered that Joseph suffered from a neurological disorder tied to his mother's alcohol consumption when she was pregnant with him and had been shown from an early age that "violence was an acceptable way to solve problems."
According to trial testimony, Jeff Hall had gone out drinking on the night of the shooting and later got into a verbal altercation with his wife -- and Joseph's stepmother -- Krista McCary, telling her he wanted a divorce. The woman openly despaired about what might happen to her and Joseph's stepbrothers and sisters if Hall walked out on them, according to testimony.
The boy's paternal grandmother, JoAnn Becker, said Joseph was also a "victim" in the case. She wrote in a statement read in court Wednesday that the only way Hall's death "can make any sense to us is if Joseph gets the help he so desperately needs." --City News Service