RIVERSIDE, Calif. (AP) — 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 the man slept on a couch, a prosecutor alleged Tuesday.
The boy’s father, Jeff Hall, was an out-of-work plumber who also was a regional leader of the National Socialist Movement.
Hall, 32, joined the group and organized rallies at synagogues and a day labor site after his sister-in-law was killed about six years ago by a hit-and-run driver who was an illegal immigrant.
In opening statements at the boy’s murder trial in juvenile court, Riverside County Deputy District Attorney Michael Soccio dismissed the notion that Hall’s neo-Nazi beliefs “conditioned” the child to kill. Instead, Soccio said, the boy was a violent and angry child who’d been expelled from multiple schools.
He also said the boy, now 12, suspected his father was going to leave his stepmother and he didn’t want the family to split up.
“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, the boy 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 learned it was acceptable to kill people who were a threat. Hall taught his son to shoot guns, and 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.”
The defense also suggested that the boy’s stepmother, Krista McCary, goaded the child into killing Hall because her husband planned to leave her for another woman. McCary told a police officer at the scene that she had killed her husband, but later recanted and said she lied to protect her stepson, who she’d raised since infancy.
McCary has pleaded guilty to one felony count of child endangerment and criminal storage of a firearm in the case, said John Hall, district attorney spokesman.
Prosecutors maintain that the boy intended to kill his father and saw an opportunity when Hall came home late after a day of drinking and fell asleep on the couch. The boy got a gun from his parent’s room and shot Hall at near point-blank range behind his left ear on May 1, 2011, Soccio 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.
The two siblings talked about the shooting as they played on a swing set a day before the attack, Soccio told the court.
Another officer testified that the boy was held in a patrol car at the scene and began to talk almost nonstop 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.”
McCary testified that she and Hall hosted a monthly meeting of the National Socialist Movement the day before the shooting and drank whiskey shots with their guests into the afternoon.
Hall left to drive some guests home and sent McCary three profanity-laced text messages while he was gone telling her he wanted a divorce and ordering her to move out. The couple argued when he returned home because he was seeing another woman, McCary said.
Sometime later, McCary said she awoke to a loud noise and came downstairs to find her husband lying on the couch bleeding from the head. Her stepson came downstairs almost immediately, stopped halfway down the staircase and confessed, she said.
“He said, ‘I shot dad.’ And I said, ‘Why?’” she said. “He didn’t answer.”
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. He also tried to strangle a teacher with a telephone cord a few years later, he said.
His stepmother said the boy had severe learning disabilities and frequently was the target of Hall’s wrath when her husband had been drinking or was high.
“He had mood swings, and you were never sure which Jeff you were going to get,” she said.
Hall had said he believed in a white breakaway nation and 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.
Hall and the boy’s biological mother previously slugged through a divorce and custody dispute in which each accused the other of child abuse. Social service workers visited Hall’s home more than 20 times but never removed the children from his custody.
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 undoubtedly would play a role in the boy’s development.
If a judge finds he murdered Hall, the boy could be held in state custody until he is 23 years old.
The state currently houses fewer than 900 juveniles.
Associated Press Writer Amy Taxin in Tustin contributed to this report.