Boy Who Killed Neo-Nazi Father Goes on Trial in California

I thought I’d take a brief break from politics to update a story I wrote about back in the spring of 2011 about the death of neo-Nazi Jeff Hall of Riverside, California. Hall’s 10-year-old son Joseph admitted to shooting his father.

At the time, I wrote that it is unusual for children to kill their parents unless there is a history of parental abuse. Hall abused his children first by exposing them to neo-Nazi meetings in the home where they soaked up his hateful ideology, and second by beating both Joseph and his stepmother. The boy had been separated from his mom for years, and at the time of the shooting was the subject of a custody battle between his biological parents. Clearly, he had been under incredible stress. I wrote in May 2011:

So we have a young boy who probably has Post-traumatic Stress Disorder from years of abuse by both parents, from being separated from his mother, and from being exposed to hate-filled rhetoric at Neo-Nazi meetings and probably from his father. It’s like something out of American History X. How could a judge allow children to live in a home like that? To me, exposing young children to racist, anti-semitic, and anti-immigrant vitriol is in itself abuse.

Since the boy is under the age of 14, he cannot be tried as an adult and will likely be put in a youth offender facility. According to the articles I read, he will probably get out when he is 25 years old. By that time, he’ll most likely be a hardened criminal.

I looked at several studies of young children’s understanding of death. A ten-year-old has barely begun to comprehend the irreversibility of death. His brain development has not reached a point where he has good impulse control or the ability to manage strong emotions well. This story makes me heartsick.

Joseph’s trial for murder began yesterday.

The 10-year-old son of a neo-Nazi leader told his younger sister that he planned to shoot their father, then a day later took a gun from his parents’ bedroom and fired one bullet into his father’s head as he slept on a couch, a prosecutor alleged Tuesday.

The boy’s father, Jeff Hall, was an out-of-work plumber who as regional leader of the National Socialist Movement headed rallies at a synagogue and a day labor site.

In opening statements at the murder trial, Riverside County prosecutor Michael Soccio dismissed the notion that Hall’s neo-Nazi beliefs contributed to his son’s behavior, as the defense maintains, and instead said the boy, now 12, was a violent child who had been kicked out of every school he attended.

The boy also suspected his father was going to leave his stepmother, and he didn’t want the family to split up, prosecutors have said.

At least he isn’t being tried as an adult. If convicted, he could be released at age 23.

Joseph’s public defender told The New York Times that:

his client has neurological and psychological problems, compounded by exposure to neo-Nazi “conditioning” and physical abuse in the home.

“He’s been conditioned to violence,” Mr. Hardy said, adding, “You have to ask yourself: Did this kid really know that this act was wrong based on all those things?”

Instead, Mr. Hardy said, Joseph thought he was being a hero by shooting his father. “He thought what he was doing was right,” said Mr. Hardy. “And while that may be hard for other people to understand, in his mind, in a child’s mind, if he thought it was right, or at least didn’t think it was wrong, then he cannot be held responsible.”

But here’s the most tragic part of this case, in my opinion:

if found responsible for the killing and made a ward of the state, Joseph, who is now 12, would be the youngest person held in one of the three fenced-in facilities run by California’s Department of Juvenile Justice, which houses about 900 of some of the state’s most serious juvenile offenders. The median age of these offenders held by the state is 19…

So the kid will be exposed to older boys who will probably abuse him physically, sexually, and emotionally. As I wrote last spring, he’ll most likely be a hardened criminal by the time he’s back on the street.

According to Joseph Weisberg, co-director of the Stanford Criminal Justice Center, it’s extremely rare for a child so young to go on trial for murder.

But Mr. Soccio said that Joseph had a history of violence, including an attack that involved wrapping a telephone cord around a teacher’s neck, and needed to be in a security setting “receiving as much help as possible for as long as possible.”

“I’ve had some people say, ‘How can you do that to a little kid?’ ” said Mr. Soccio. “And I ask them, ‘Well, would you like him to come live with you?’ ”

Whatever strategy the lawyers use, life inside the Hall household will most likely come up in the trial, and Joseph may take the stand, Mr. Soccio said. The court could also see testimony from members of the neo-Nazi group the National Socialist Movement, of which Mr. Hall was a West Coast leader.

Obviously Joseph should have been removed from the home years ago. Maybe it’s too late to rehabilitate him–I can’t say. It just makes me so angry that we live in a society that doesn’t give priority to protecting children and helping them cope with and recover from emotional trauma and abuse. Instead we cut taxes for the wealthiest Americans and skimp on anything that could change outcomes for children like Joseph. As I wrote last spring, it’s just plain heartbreaking.

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14 Comments on “Boy Who Killed Neo-Nazi Father Goes on Trial in California”

  1. ANonOMouse says:

    It is heartbreaking BB, thank you for writing about it.

    I don’t understand why there’s no sort of facility where this young man can go for pyschological help and rehaibilation that won’t be just more of the same sort of environment that he’s grown up in.

    • bostonboomer says:

      I guess it’s because politicians think it’s more important to spend money on tax cuts and wars than to help children.

  2. dakinikat says:

    We really don’t do a very good job protecting children from monsters when the monsters are their parents. For the most part, we still view kids as property of fathers. Domestic violence and abuse creates all kinds of issues in women and children and we just enable the perpetrators. People that rob convenience stores are treated more harshly than domestic abusers.

  3. prolixous says:

    BB, thanks for updating this tragic story. I remember seeing this on “60 Minutes” and realizing this abuse wasn’t in a vacuum, plenty of people (adults) knew about this and did nothing until it was too late.

    It is a perfect example of when you see wrongs being perpetrated upon children, silence is at best complicity and at worst enabling — either way we need to speak up. Too often we allow social convention to stand in the way of doing what’s right — this is a perfect example of why we should.

  4. janicen says:

    It really angers me when conservatives ridicule and vilify advocates of children’s rights. If we had more proactive protection of children in our society, tragedies like this could be prevented. While I agree that this child isn’t going to get any help in a juvenile detention facility, I can’t think of any service or facility we have where he could be helped. Foster care doesn’t seem like it would be appropriate for a child with such a history of violence. What a tragic waste of a life.

  5. RalphB says:

    Thanks for updating this story. It’s one of the real tragedies of our society that we don’t handle these situations before they reach these awful points.

  6. peregrine says:

    Over my career, I’ve worked as a teacher, social worker, and a guidance counselor. I worked with families and children, including foster children, not in the protective services unit at the DSS. I also worked long enough ago that children killing parents was nearly unheard of.

    I don’t have a degree in child psychology, but I believe 10 year old Joseph could have thought killing his abusive father, taking away forever this abominable, abusive parent, was the right and heroic solution. I’m not saying it was the right thing to do, but he lived in a violent, hate-filled home. I agree that this 12 year old should not be sent to a juvenile offenders’ facility which is definitely a breeding ground for hardened criminals. A small group home with security run by professionals should be an alternative for this young boy, and certainly with counseling and educational programs provided.

    It’s very, very sad to me how our culture doesn’t offer correctives at a much earlier age in order that children like Joseph can be identified and given special help, with removal from the home being a possibility. However, in my day it was extremely difficult for parental rights to be rescinded.

    • bostonboomer says:

      Joseph discussed the plan to kill his dad with his sister and she approved. He might even have been protecting her. The prosecutor says Joseph was acting out violently by age 5. So why didn’t someone act then? This is not a child-friendly country, and it just makes me sick.

      • pdgrey says:

        Really f**ked up justice system, and not just this case but any mental health problem. It’s sad, sad we are a only punishment country.

      • peregrine says:

        I read, some rapidly, your past posts on this awful killing. I don’t know the time-line, but reports were made of abuse. These children were home-schooled. Neighbors were afraid of the father. The mother (abused herself and not very well or strong enough it appears), aunt, and grandmother, for whatever reasons, would not fight for the custody of these children. An opening for outside supervision came with the first call of abuse and should have been taken seriously. Another opening came when the biological mother was in court requesting custody. The judge should have appointed a social worker then and asked for a periodic report, like every few weeks.

        During my 6.5 years as a social worker, I was forever over-worked and at one point had a case-load of 89 families. It was difficult work. The last 3 years, I shared a small office with 2 other sws with only one telephone line into the room. I learned more in that job than any of the others, and came to (generally) like and respect social workers.

  7. see testimony from members of the neo-Nazi group the National Socialist Movement, of which Mr. Hall was a West Coast leader.
    I find it odd to see a neo-Nazi group described as a Socialist group. Maybe I’m just way out of touch. Thought these were opposite ends of the spectrum.