A Riverside boy who fatally shot his neo-Nazi father in the head while he slept committed a "premeditated and deliberate" crime and should be punished, a prosecutor said today, while the child's lawyer argued the cognitively impaired youngster resorted to the only means he knew to protect himself.
"This boy laid awake and thought about shooting his father. He told investigators that he 'thought this thing between father and son had to end,"' Riverside County Deputy District Attorney Mike Soccio said during his closing argument in the trial of 12-year-old Joseph Hall.
"Is there anything unclear about that statement?" the prosecutor wondered. "Shooting his father was wrong. He says that to anybody who will listen, over and over again."
Joseph was just shy of his 11th birthday when he took 32-year-old Jeff Russell Hall's .357 revolver, crept to the downstairs sofa where the drunken man was sleeping and fired a bullet into his head in the predawn hours of May 1, 2011, according to trial testimony.
Soccio characterized the deadly shooting at the Lauder Court home as a planned attack that the boy perpetrated for the same reasons he'd perpetrated earlier violent acts -- to get what he wanted. In this case, his father out of the picture.
The prosecutor recounted how Joseph had choked a teacher, stabbed his younger sister and struck his uncle in the head with a club.
"He didn't like people who told him he couldn't do things," Soccio told Superior Court Judge Jean Leonard, presiding in the non-jury bench trial. "There's strong evidence that he has the capacity to pick and choose when he wants to follow the rules."
The prosecutor urged the judge not to let the victim's leadership in the National Socialist Movement and other white supremacist causes weigh into her decision in the case.
"Say 'Nazi' and all of a sudden he's a non-person," Soccio said.
Deputy Public Defender Mathew Hardy said Joseph was the product of an abusive environment, receiving no treatment for a neurological disorder tied to his mother's alcohol consumption and being shown from an early age that "violence was an acceptable way to solve problems."
"He was kept in an environment where he was conditioned to use violence. He learned that from his dad," Hardy said, referring to Jeff Hall's neo-Nazi activities and alleged penchant for "slapping, hitting and yelling" at his oldest child.
"This young man never had a chance," the attorney said. "He was genetically programmed to commit violence."
According to Hardy, the youngster was abandoned by all the entities that should have come to his rescue but left him "trapped" in a world of abuse and neglect. He noted that the county Department of Public Social Services investigated complaints of mistreatment in the Hall household 20 times over seven years but never acted.
Joseph was also permanently expelled from his elementary school.
"Society told him, 'You're all alone, kid,"' the attorney said.
He argued that on the night of the shooting, Joseph and his siblings overheard Jeff Hall boast that he would "remove all the smoke alarms and burn down the house," threatening to kill his entire family. The statement was made following an argument between the inebriated man and his wife, then-25-year-old Krista McCary, who openly despaired about what might happen if Hall divorced her, according to testimony.
Hardy said Joseph reacted to both his stepmother's anxiety and his father's arguably hollow threats to kill them all.
"Joseph wanted to help his family stop the violence," the attorney said. "He felt justified. He didn't know it was wrong. What did he tell police after? 'If dad is hurting, he'll know how it feels to hurt me.' This neurologically damaged young man saw a simple solution to his problems -- avoid abandonment, protect the family, pull the trigger."
Hardy asked the judge to rule his client's actions were done in self- defense, or at the very least met the definition of involuntary manslaughter given the boy's fractured reasoning.
Soccio countered that the age of the defendant and his unhappy childhood should not excuse what he did.
"What Joseph did was murder ... premeditated and deliberate," the prosecutor said. "Mr. Hall met a fate he shouldn't have. It's time for Joseph to hear from all of us. He needs to be held to the same standard we're all held to."
Leonard is expected to hand down her ruling Monday morning. If Joseph is convicted of murder, he could be incarcerated in a juvenile detention facility until he's 23.