A California court has upheld sending the boy who murdered his Nazi father to the state’s prison for youthful offenders rather than a less-secure mental health facility.
Neo-Nazi leader Jeff Hall, 32, was shot with his own Rossi .357 Magnum by his 10-year-old son while he slept on a sofa in the family home May 1, 2011, near Riverside.
In 2013, Riverside County Superior Court Judge Jean P. Leonard, sitting as a juvenile court judge, ruled that the boy understood the “wrongfulness of his acts” and had “committed an act which would have been second-degree murder if committed by an adult” and sentenced him to a maximum of 40 years in confinement.
The boy’s attorneys appealed, and the case was affirmed June 8th by the appellate court in Riverside. Unless appealed to and accepted for review by the state’s Supreme Court, which is unlikely, the case has been fully adjudicated.
The boy, now 14, confessed to killing his dad.
He was sent to the state’s juvenile prison system, where he became the state’s youngest inmate.
When police arrived at the family home around 4 a.m., the boy was found under his covers in bed.
While Nazi hate speech and violence played in the background of the boy’s life, and obviously had some role in the crime, the boy said he killed his father because he got mad at him.
As he told a policeman while detained in a patrol car: “His father had abused him and other members of the family repeatedly, and that the previous night, his father had threatened to remove all the smoke detectors and burn the house down, while the family slept,” according to court records in the ruling by the Fourth District Court of Appeal. “The boy explained that his father returned home and fell asleep on the couch, after which he got the gun from his stepmother’s bedroom, went downstairs and shot his father in the head.”
In addition to the crime itself, court documents cast a bright light on the troubled family – his biological mother’s prenatal drug use, the boy’s mental health issues, abusive home life and violence at school, and on his father’s neo-Nazi politics.
Beginning at noon on the day before the shooting, Jeff Hall hosted a party of a dozen members of the National Socialist Movement at his home, and alcohol was served. Both Mr. Hall and his wife, the boy’s stepmother, drank.
Remarkably, a reporter attended this meeting to report on it. The reporter said that the boy sat quietly on the stairs and when he was asked if he were having fun, the boy said he was and showed the reporter his new belt bearing a Nazi insignia.
During the party Mr. Hall took some of the children into a dark room to show them his new glow-in-dark T-shirt with a Nazi insignia on it, and the reaction all ’round was “Wow!”
At about 7 p.m. the stepmother got a phone text message from Mr. Hall “indicating he intended to throw her out of the home.” After the party ended Mr. Hall left the house to drive a female Nazi home, and the stepmother fell asleep, watching television. The boy and his sister went to their own room.
Later the stepmother heard her husband come home and talking on the telephone. She went down stairs and found him in the kitchen drinking and in a “bad mood.” They “argued because” her husband learned she “planned to move out,” records stated.
In the very early hours of the next day, she was startled awake by a loud noise. Thinking that a kitchen shelf had fallen, she went downstairs, where she found the TV on. When she turned on the lights, she saw her husband on the couch, bleeding from a head wound.
At that point, the boy came downstairs and told her, “I shot dad.” The stepmother called police.
When police arrived they found Mr. Hall lying on the sofa in a large pool of blood from a single gunshot to the head.
While outside, an officer asked the stepmother what happened, and the boy “volunteered that he had grabbed the gun and shot his dad in the ear. He explained he did so because his father had beaten him and his stepmother, and his father had kicked him ‘in the ass’ the day before.”
The boy said he put the gun under his bed, where investigators later found it.
While unhand-cuffed and sitting with an officer in a patrol car, the boy talked about the crime. He “admitted he had shot his father, said he wished he had not done it, and indicated he knew it was wrong,” according to the records.
“He asked if his father were dead, or just injured, and explained the events leading up to the shooting . . . He did not mention being told by anyone else to shoot his father. However, he was worried that his sisters would be angry with him.” Later at the police station, he “described how the family decided to have a movie night (they watched Yogi Bear), then going to bed where he woke up after a little while and ‘started thinking that I should end the son versus father thing.’”
There was even spontaneous talk at the scene that tended to show that the boy had talked to his sister beforehand about his actions. An officer said that he heard the girl say, “I thought you were going to shoot him in the stomach.”
Showing his age, the boy even asked an officer: “Do people get more than one life?”
Born in 2000, he and his younger sister lived with their biological mother until he was about four, “when they were placed with their father, Jeff, after numerous reports to Child Protective Services relating to neglect by their mother,” court records stated. The boy “had been exposed to heroin, methamphetamine, LSD, marijuana and alcohol ingested by his biological mother prenatally.” In addition, the records say, he “had been physically abused and severely neglected by his mother, and was sexually abused by his mother’s boyfriend.”
By this time, his father was remarried to his stepmother and the couple had three additional children.
After her son’s arrest, his natural mother told a Los Angeles TV station that she was worried about her son’s safety in state custody. “With the current situation, it looks really dim,” his biological mother said. She said her son struggled with emotional issues and learning challenges as a result of his upbringing. “I’m very concerned,” she told the TV station. “It makes me wonder, will he ever graduate from high school?”
Court records outlined the extent of his emotional problems: “From the time he was three years old, his paternal grandmother could not babysit him because she could not control his outbursts. He suffered from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, resulting in trouble at school due to his inability to sit still; he also engaged in impulsive and violent behavior towards both children and teachers, which included hitting, kicking, biting, scratching, stabbing with pencils or other sharp objects, and hitting with objects, as well as running out of class. At school, he also threw tantrums where he threw over all the students’ desks and chairs.”
In one school program for children with learning disabilities, he turned his wrath on his teacher, “kicking, hitting, and scratching the teacher, pulling the teacher’s hair, calling her a ‘fucking bitch,’ and threatening to kill the teacher.” While his father and stepmother got therapy for him, he attended “six different schools due to violent outbursts.” Eventually, Mr. Hall and his wife homeschooled the boy.
Court records “indicated that on the date of the shooting, (the boy) was not taking his psychotropic medications.”
Upon his arrest, his youth immediately presented problems for the justice system.
Riverside Prosecutor Michael Soccio told CBS TV’s Lesley Stahl in 2011 that when the lad was “taken into juvenile hall, he’s so little, they didn’t have shoes to fit him. So they had to go out and buy him a little pair of tennis shoes. And he asked if he’d be able to keep the shoes when he left. Which showed an absolute lack of understanding of what was going to be happening.”
Ms. Stahl reported that then the U.S. Department of Justice said there were nine cases of 10-year-olds killing a parent since 1980.
After the boy’s commitment to state custody, Mr. Soccio told a reporter: “He is a little boy, and his life has been very, very sad. I also would have been concerned had he been released. I think he’s a very dangerous boy.”
In the CBS interview, Ms. Stahl asked the prosecutor whether he thought the father’s neo-Nazi politics had anything to do with the killing. “When I first heard it I thought: there’s got to be some connection with Nazi views, with guns, with weapons, with violence,” he responded.
Ms. Stahl: “Hate speech?”
Mr. Soccio: “Hate speech, sure.”
At the boy’s court hearing, his defense argued that the Mr. Hall home glorified violence and, given his age, it left the boy unable to understand right from wrong. For instance, the defense offered a photo of the boy, with a toy gun, giving a Nazi salute and smiling beside a hooded Klansman.
Mr. Jeff Hall
Mr. Hall had an unstable work history and was unemployed for the three years leading up to his death, although he had worked for a time as a plumber.
Court records state that he was addicted to Percocet and methamphetamine, and was frequently violent towards both his wife and the boy. He was worse when intoxicated: on those occasions he would just lose control, and start beating on the boy, the records said. Sometimes the stepmother intervened. A few days before the shooting, Mr. Hall became violent with his wife, throwing a glass cup at her, which cut her. Mr. Hall’s mood swings and infidelity made her unhappy.
Mr. Hall’s Nazi affiliations began around 2007. That year his wife’s sister was killed in a hit-run accident involving an undocumented Mexican. As a result, Mr. Hall became involved in the National Socialist Movement and the Save Our State movement, both anti-illegal immigration groups.
Mr. Hall owned guns, which he frequently showed off, including the Rossi handgun that was kept in the closet of the bedroom. There were no child protection locks for the gun, which was kept loaded. He sometimes took his son to the Mexican border, where the Nazis patrolled, and he taught the boy how to shoot.
He was a rising star in the national Nazi movement. As California director of the National Socialist Movement, the nation’s largest neo-Nazi group, Mr. Hall helped lead demonstrations in Riverside and Los Angeles, where white supremacists waved swastika flags and gave Nazi salutes.
In 2010, Mr. Hall, who had a cross and skull tattooed on the back of his shaved head, ran unsuccessfully as a National Socialist for a seat on a Riverside water district. Before his death he promised to run again.
In his campaign literature for a seat on the Western Municipal Water Board, Division 2, he acknowledged his Nazi membership, and wrote: “I would like to remind everyone in my district that I’m not a career politician. My desire is to address the water issues and needs of our community and not use the seat as a stepping stone to establish a possible career in politics. A vote for me would be a vote for sensible water conservation and solutions.”
That sounded like any traditional candidate. But, then Mr. Hall added: “I would also like to remind the residents in my district that you have anonymity in the voting booth. If you are worried about being labeled as I have, you simply do not need to share the name of the candidate you voted for. You have the unique opportunity to cast a vote for someone who believes in White Civil Rights and serving his community. You will not be singled out or labelled as I have.”
Because water board members are paid about $18,000 in salary and another $17,000 in benefits, the post would have amounted to a part-time job for the unemployed Mr. Hall. However, he lost, garnering a respectable 28 percent of the vote.
Mr. Hall’s sister, told CBS’s Ms. Stahl that she hated his Nazi politics, but that she had always seen him as a “model father.” “He was an amazing father and would do anything for his kids,” she said. “And you know, my nephew (the shooter) would just look at him like he was a hero.” But, she added, in the years before his death, “The hero changed; darkened.”
Whether it was the power of being a neo-Nazi leader or the powerlessness of unemployment, she wasn’t sure. His mother told a reporter she believed the economic recession and his inability to find a job sent him into joining the neo-Nazis.
In its arguments, the boy’s defense in the appeal contended that the judge who heard the original case: (1) the court erroneously considered statements obtained in violation of his Miranda rights; (2) his evaluation by a prosecution expert during trial, without counsel present, violated his due process rights; (3) the court improperly weighed the evidence in finding that he knew the wrongfulness of his conduct; (4) the true findings must be reversed due to cumulative errors during the adjudicatory hearing; and (5) the court abused its discretion in committing him to the Department of Juvenile Justice.
The three appeals judges who ruled in the case rejected each of the assertions, including No. 5, which has set a precedent in California. The ruling, in fact, now stands as a road map for other California judges when confronted with an unusually youthful defendant charged with murder.
One important issue on appeal was whether the boy, required to be educated under federal law, would receive the proper schooling he needed while in the youthful offenders prison. In ruling that he would, the judge in the case made the right decision, as it turns out.
“The testimony adduced at the contested disposition hearing also showed that the minor had greatly improved cognitively while detained in juvenile hall, and had progressed academically,” the record stated. “Further, the minor reported that he liked it at the Division of Juvenile Justice.”
Additionally, a neuropsychologist testified that he “felt that the minor would have difficulty managing behaviors and emotional control outside a highly structured environment” and stated that the boy “requires supervision; it was not safe for either him or the public to be released into the community.”
But, the pivotal legal issue in the appeal was where to incarcerate the boy. California law requires judges to consider less restrictive alternatives to the youthful offender prison system. While the prosecutor argued for secure imprisonment with the Division of Juvenile Justice, the boy’s attorneys said he had serious emotional disabilities that the state wasn’t equipped to handle. They wanted him placed in a residential treatment center, where security would be lighter and the therapy would be more intense.
His attorneys suggested that he be sent to a kind of honor farm for troubled kids, which the judge rejected. “Minor’s counsel informed the court there were two additional possible placements to consider, namely the San Diego Children’s Center, and the Devereux School in Texas,” the records say.
The judge ordered the county probation department to check these facilities, and later, an officer “reported that neither of the alternative placements were secured facilities.”
In addition, the San Diego Center for Children rejected the boy because of the seriousness of the charge.
Independently, a description of Devereux’s program for children doesn’t sound like a good fit for a boy who had used a handgun to murder his dad. “The Children’s Program at Devereux-Victoria is a 24-hour residential treatment program that provides treatment to emotionally and cognitively affected children ages 5-14,” the school’s Web site states. “The program’s goals are to provide structure and therapeutic intervention with the aim of returning children to their homes or to lower levels of care.”
In addition, the court even considered a school in Utah that had accepted the boy. “The probation officer learned that the facility had accepted him without having interviewed him, based solely on the recommendation of an official with Department of Mental Health that the boy was a level-headed, polite kid,” the records stated. “The probation department had reservations about the acceptance because no out-of-state facility had ever accepted a minor without interviewing the minor either in person, or via telephone. The probation officer was also concerned that (the home) was a 197-bed facility with 119 openings. The probation officer again recommended commitment to a prison in the Division of Juvenile Justice.”
In October 2013, the judge ruled that “less restrictive alternatives would be ineffective and inappropriate, and that commitment to DJJ would be beneficial.”
Said the judge in the original ruling: “The court noted that the minor is a danger to the public who must be housed in a secure facility, and that he would not receive the intensive services he needs, nor would society be protected, in a less restrictive placement. The court adjudged the minor a ward of the court, found he was a person with exceptional needs, and committed him to the DJJ. The court set his maximum confinement time as 40 years to life, consisting of 15 years to life for the murder finding, plus 25 years to life for the gun discharge enhancement.”
However, the state’s juvenile justice system cannot hold a youthful offender beyond the age of 25.
Since sentencing it appears the boy has progressed relatively well.
“I have grown attached to him in an odd way,” Mr. Soccio, the prosecutor, told a London reporter. “I enjoy watching him grow and change but I am convinced he has done better in a quasi-military penal environment” because he “seems to like it, he knows what the rules are and what is expected, and he is treated with dignity.”
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