RIVERSIDE, Calif. (AP) — A boy who was only 10 when he fatally shot his white supremacist father was convicted Monday of second-degree murder by a judge who said the child knew what he did was wrong.
Riverside Superior Court Judge Jean Leonard weighed the severity of the crime versus whether the amount of abuse and neglect suffered by the boy, now 12, played a significant role in the slaying of 32-year-old Jeff Hall, a regional leader of the National Socialist Movement.
Leonard noted the boy lay in bed, waited for the right moment and shot his dad at point-blank range with the "bad gun" — a .357 Magnum — while he slept on a sofa in the family home.
"This was not a complex killing," said Leonard, who heard the case without a jury. "He thought about the idea and shot his father."
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 gone through a divorce and custody dispute in which each had accused the other of child abuse. She initially told authorities she had killed Hall but then quickly retracted her statement. She was not charged in the case.
Defense attorney Matthew Hardy said because of the abuse his client learned it was acceptable to kill people who were a threat. The boy thought if he shot his dad, the violence would end, Hardy said.
Also at issue were the father's racist beliefs.
Hall, 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.
Hall had previously taken the boy on a U.S.-Mexico border patrol trip and showed him how to use a gun, according to court documents.
Prosecutors maintained Hall's white supremacist beliefs had nothing to do with the crime. They noted the boy had a history of violence that dated back to kindergarten when he stabbed a teacher with a pencil.
But Leonard said in her decision that the white supremacist beliefs did have an effect on the boy and "gave him thoughts normal kids don't have." Hardy maintains the boy isn't racist.
The challenge now for the legal system is to find the best place where the boy can be rehabilitated. Prosecutors said it's likely the boy, who is not being identified by The Associated Press because of his age, will most likely be placed in state custody, making him the youngest person currently in the custody of California's corrections department.
The blonde-haired boy, who wears glasses, showed no emotion after the verdict was read.
"He knew it was coming," Hardy said. "He's focused on trying to get it over with. Go someplace where he can get some help. He wants to be a normal kid and wants to have a normal life."
Hardy said he hoped the boy would not be sent to a juvenile lockup but rather be placed in a private facility that offers therapy, medical treatment and schooling.
"I just don't want him warehoused some place," said Hardy, who plans to appeal the judge's verdict. A sentencing hearing was set for Feb. 15. The boy could be jailed until he is 23.
Prosecutor Michael Soccio spoke to the boy after the hearing finished and said he wanted the child to know that his office wasn't "against him as a person. We want him to get help."
"He's a community problem in terms of what do we do about somebody that young," Soccio said outside of court. "It's an unbelievable case and a very difficult one for everybody involved and it will be all along."