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Riverside judge postpones sentencing 12-year-old who murdered neo-Nazi father

Jeff Hall holds a Neo Nazi flag while standing at Sycamore Highlands Park near his home in Riverside, Calif., on Friday, Oct. 22, 2010.
Jeff Hall holds a Neo Nazi flag while standing at Sycamore Highlands Park near his home in Riverside, Calif., on Friday, Oct. 22, 2010.
Sandy Huffaker/AP

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A Riverside juvenile court judge on Friday postponed for the second time the sentencing of a 12-year-old boy who fatally shot his Neo-Nazi father as he lay sleeping.  

During a short hearing, Judge Jean Leonard said she would not authorize the court to pay for an MRI of the defendant's brain, denying a request made by the Department of Mental Health after the boy was found responsible for second-degree murder in January. KPCC is not printing the boy’s name due to his age and the circumstances of the case.

But Leonard did agree to the defense's request for a contested disposition hearing, which will allow Deputy Public Defender Matthew Hardy to call expert witnesses and obtain an MRI, if he can afford it. Hardy hopes that will bolster his chances of getting the boy sentenced to an alternative placement facility, where he may have greater access to mental health treatment than he would at a traditional juvenile lockdown.

The disposition hearing will not change Leonard’s options on sentencing. She must choose between sending the boy to the state Juvenile Justice Detention System, as prosecutors are suggesting; finding an alternative placement facility, as hoped for by the defense; or placing him on probation – an unlikely outcome considering he used a gun.

At a January 14th hearing, Leonard determined the boy's actions did not rise to the standard of first-degree murder, which requires premeditation, but rather the lesser crime of second-degree murder. Under state law, he could be held as a ward of the state until the age of 23.

Leonard was first scheduled to announce a sentencing decision on Feb. 15, but delayed it, saying she needed more information about the boy’s mental state. She wanted to know what medications he was taking and requested a list of possible placement facilities.

Throughout the case, Hardy said an abusive and violent environment upbringnig taught the defendant it was acceptable to kill people who were a threat. Hardy contended the boy thought if he shot his dad, the violence would end.

In the early morning hours of May 1, 2011, the then 10-year-old crept down the stairs of his family home and shot his father at point-blank range with a .357 Magnum while he slept on a  sofa, according to court testimony. His father, Jeff Hall, was a regional leader of a neo-Nazi group, the National Socialist Movement.

Outside the court house, Prosecutor Chief Deputy Dist. Atty. Michael Soccio said he didn’t disagree with the day’s ruling but thinks MRIs are “nearly pointless” for children, whose brains are still growing.

Leonard set the new hearing for March 18th.