RIVERSIDE, Calif. — 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.
“You’ll learn that (the child) would have shot his father even if he’d been a member of the Peace and Freedom Party. It made no difference,” Soccio said, before showing the court photos of Hall playing tea party with his young children. “They lived a relatively normal life.”
The Associated Press is not identifying the child because he is a juvenile.
The boy with light brown hair sat quietly in court next to his attorney and wore a purple polo shirt and glasses. He showed little emotion when the prosecution flashed photos through a projector of his blood-spattered father, and he appeared to be taking notes in a spiral-bound notebook.
On several occasions, he asked his attorney how to spell the name of a witness taking the stand.
Defense attorney Matthew Hardy countered in his opening statement that his client had grown up in an abusive and violent environment and was conditioned to believe it was right to kill people who were a threat.
Hall taught his son to shoot guns, took him to neo-Nazi rallies and once to the Mexican border to teach him how to “make sure he knew what to do to protect this place from the Mexicans,” Hardy said.
“If you were going to create a monster, if you were going to create a killer, what would you do?” he said. “You’d put him in a house where there’s domestic violence, child abuse, racism.”
Hardy also claimed the boy’s stepmother Krista McCrary, who is expected to testify, goaded the boy into killing Hall because Hall was planning to leave her for another woman. Hall sent her text messages on the night he was shot saying he would divorce her, and spent more than five hours talking to his girlfriend on the phone, Hardy said.
McCrary sat in on the child’s interviews with police and psychiatrists after the shooting, he said, and she lied to investigators.
The boy saw an opportunity when his father came home from a party but was locked out and had to get in the house by crawling through a window, Soccio said.
Hall fell asleep on the couch, and the boy got a gun from his parent’s room and shot Hall at near point-blank range behind his left ear, the prosecutor said.
“He held the gun about a foot away and, as he explained, he took four fingers and put them into the trigger and pulled the trigger back and the gun discharged,” Soccio said, showing images of a bloodied Hall on the couch covered by a blue blanket.
Several police officers testified that the boy and at least one of his siblings voluntarily gave statements immediately after the shooting that indicated the boy had killed his father.
One younger sister asked the boy why he hadn’t shot their father in the stomach, as he said he planned to do, according to Officer Robert Monreal, who picked up the exchange on a belt recorder.
Prosecutors previously said the two siblings talked about the killing as they played on a swing set.
Another officer testified that the boy was held in a patrol car at the scene and began to talk almost non-stop from the backseat. Officer Michael Foster said the child acknowledged shooting his father and began to show remorse.
“He was sad about it. He wished he hadn’t done it,” Foster recalled. “He asked me about things like, do people get more than one life, things like that. He wanted to know if he was dead or if he just had injuries.”
The boy has a history of being expelled from school for violence, starting at age 5 when he stabbed a teacher with a pencil on the first day of kindergarten, Soccio said outside court. He also tried to strangle a teacher with a telephone cord a few years later, he said.
Hall, 32, who said he believed in a white breakaway nation, ran for a seat on the local water board in 2010 in a move that disturbed many residents in the recession-battered suburbs southeast of Los Angeles. The day before his death, he held a meeting of the neo-Nazi group at his home.
The boy’s stepmother told authorities that Hall had hit, kicked and yelled at his son for being too loud or getting in the way. Hall and the boy’s biological mother had previously slugged through a divorce and custody dispute in which each had accused the other of child abuse.
Kathleen M. Heide, a professor at the University of South Florida in Tampa who wrote “Why Kids Kill Parents,” said children 10 and under rarely kill their parents and that only 16 such cases were documented between 1996 and 2007.
Heide also said parenting and home life would undoubtedly play a role in the development of the boy.
If a judge finds the boy murdered Hall, he could be held in state custody until he is 23 years old.
The state currently houses fewer than 900 juveniles.