UPDATE, March 1, 2013: Joseph Hall, now 12, will be sentenced today; in January, he was convicted of second-degree murder in the death of his father, Jeffrey Hall, "a regional director of the National Socialist Movement, a white separatist group," in Riverside, two years ago. (Prior reporting below.)
...Joseph Hall's trial centered on allegations of abuse and the young defendant's grasp of right and wrong.
Riverside County Superior Court Judge Jean Leonard, who heard the juvenile case without a jury, could send him to the Department of Juvenile Justice, where he would be the youngest child in custody and where he would likely remain until age 23. (Sue Burrell, staff attorney at Youth Law Center in San Francisco, confirmed to Reuters that as of the end of 2012, no child under 13 was incarcerated with the Dept. of Juvenile Justice.)
Hall's family and other law and child experts say this would not be in the best interest of the child, although his lawyer acknowledges it may be the most likely placement. They prefer a treatment facility that might see him released sooner.
"It's an absolutely awful place," defense attorney Matthew Hardy said of the Department of Juvenile Justice option. "...It's a hell hole. Throwing him in there with his background would guarantee he'd never have a chance. He'll be living with the worst of the worst."
Hall has a history of severe aggressive behavior, which resulted in home schooling.
As the New York Times reported at the time of his conviction, "Joseph had been violent since he was a young child, according to testimony, beginning before his father joined the National Socialist Movement. Joseph hit his sisters and his stepmother, stabbed classmates at school with pencils and once tried to strangle a teacher with a telephone cord...[His father]... beat Joseph regularly for years before the murder...Michael Soccio, the [Riverside County] chief deputy district attorney, said he hoped the court would get Joseph help. “Joseph is a little boy, and his life has been very, very sad,” Mr. Soccio said after the ruling. But he added: “I also would have been concerned had Joseph been released. I think he’s a very dangerous boy.”
The trial is complicated because the father, Jeff Hall, was, as McKinley writes [emphases ours]:
"...a rabid neo-Nazi. And those facts raise several more philosophical quandaries that, depending on how the judge weighs the answers, may determine the outcome of the trial. Among them: whether virulent racism can amount to parental abuse, whether a child exposed to such hate can understand the difference between right and wrong, and whether someone who grows up in such toxic circumstances can be blamed for wanting a way out.
The prosecutor, Michael Soccio, at left, says that the actions of Joseph Hall have little to do with Nazism, but rather with his anger at being punished and spanked by his father at a party the day before the killing and the boy’s worries that his father would leave his family. Though he says he sympathizes with Joseph and his upbringing — “There’s a sweet side to him,” Mr. Soccio said in an interview this month — he also has little doubt that the boy is a killer...
But Joseph’s public defender, Matthew J. Hardy, says 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?”
Whether that holds true is up to Judge Jean Leonard of Riverside County Superior Court, who will oversee the murder trial without a jury. What is certain, however, is that 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....
... Robert Weisberg, a co-director of the Stanford Criminal Justice Center, [said] he could not recall seeing anyone that young on trial for such a crime in California...
California’s penal code ... says that children under 14 cannot be charged with a crime without clear proof that “they knew its wrongfulness.”
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?’ ”
... there is also the question of whether Mr. Hall’s rhetoric, which included “sieg heils,” and neo-Nazi get-togethers in the home amounted to psychological abuse. Mr. Hardy said Joseph had endured episodes of domestic violence and child abuse “as well as the atmosphere that’s created by the neo-Nazi activities.”....