On Friday, the attorney for a 10-year-old Riverside boy accused of murdering his neo-Nazi father is expected to enter a plea on his behalf. The juvenile court trial has been on hold while the boy undergoes extensive mental health evaluations. The outcome could help determine his future.
According to the boy, the killing was no accident. He told authorities it happened like this: early on a Sunday morning, he took a loaded handgun from a closet in his parent’s bedroom. He knew where to find it, and how to shoot it; his dad – neo-Nazi leader Jeff Hall - had taught him how. He crept downstairs, where his dad slept on a living room couch.
“I came in at 5 in the morning, the pager goes off and I get a call,” says Ambrosio Rodriguez, the Riverside County prosecutor who was on duty that morning. Rodriguez is now in charge of the case, his first juvenile murder case.
“I’m told by a sergeant that a 10-year-old boy has killed his Nazi father. I thought somebody was putting me on. It – I just took the address down. Got a cup of coffee, and went to work.”
Investigators found weapons in the house where the boy and his four younger siblings could easily access them. They also found beer bottles and dirty clothes strewn across the floor. Mattresses in the children’s bedroom stank of urine.
According to the boy, his father physically and verbally abused him on a regular basis. Investigators say the child believed his dad was cheating on his stepmom, and was afraid they’d break up. They say he told them he wanted to “end this whole father-son thing.”
Investigators say the boy is prone to violent outbursts. Prosecutor Rodriguez says he was kicked out of several schools by the time he was 8 years old. But his parents failed seek counseling, instead deciding to home-school him.
“And that boy now is a murderer. For the rest of his life (he) is going to live with the fact or try to forget that fact that he murdered his own father,” says Rodriguez. “And I wanna know, why that decision was made to turn that child over to parents who not only didn’t have the ability to look after the child given his emotional problems, but were also vocal proponents of Nazism.”
Much has been made of Jeff Hall’s involvement in the white supremacist movement. He was West Coast president of the National Socialist Movement – a neo-Nazi group with chapters across the US and Europe. He held monthly NSM meetings at the family home near UC Riverside. He led demonstrations at day labor sites and outside a Riverside synagogue – demonstrations that were usually met by scores of counter-protestors and frequently turned bloody.
That lifestyle could play a big part in the boy’s defense. His public defender declined comment, other than to say the boy is undergoing psychiatric evaluation.
“Did this child know when he fired a firearm at his dad that he was taking his life and that his dad unlike a cartoon figure or video game would not just pop back up and be fine?,” asks University of South Florida criminologist Kathleen Heide, who has evaluated dozens of child killers.
“And then looking at the child’s actions after killing his father, did he act like it was wrong or did he just go on with his routine?”
Prosecutors and defense attorneys need a clear sense of the boy’s mental stability and emotional maturity. Murder defendants this young are rare. According to the FBI, just ten 10-year kids in the U.S. were accused of killing a parent over a 30-year period starting in 1976.
Psychiatric evaluators for the prosecution have already interviewed the boy, scoured his school and medical records, and talked to those who knew him best.
“The child could make up stuff to get out of big trouble so you want to corroborate with family members, teachers, neighbors,” says Heide. “They might say that dad was a very loving parent who didn’t mistreat his child, or they might provide information to the contrary.”
New York photojournalist Julie Platner spent months documenting the National Socialist Movement, Jeff Hall and his followers. She was at the Hall home the day before the killing, and says she saw a boy who could be rough with his siblings – but not a boy who was a killer.
“I attribute it to the recklessness of bringing these messages to your children, of having weapons in the house,” says Platner. “And I think there was some level of it to the child that it was just a game. Do I think maybe he had the thought that he going to go downstairs and shoot his dad? Yeah, maybe. But I don’t think he understood really what that means.”
At his first court appearance, the lanky shaggy-haired boy was calm and attentive. Investigators say he’s been cooperative with them, and with mental health experts. He apparently hasn’t displayed behavior that would bolster an insanity plea.
The challenge for the juvenile court is to strike a balance between punishment and rehabilitation, says Riverside County prosecutor Ambrosio Rodriguez.
“We really take seriously, the dual role of protecting others from possible harm from [him]. But we also take seriously the need to find help for [him],” says Rodriguez. “This isn’t just some 25-year-old we want to lock up for life without the possibility of parole. We understand that we’re dealing with a 10-year-old boy. And, he should have the opportunity for redemption.”
Redemption depends on the boy, his family and the psychiatric and other care he gets in juvenile detention. He could spend up to 14 years there. His attorney was expected to enter a plea on Friday, but says he may request a new hearing date to allow more time for psychiatric evaluation.