RIVERSIDE, Calif., Nov 5 (Reuters) - A psychologist
testifying in the murder trial of a California boy who killed
his neo-Nazi father last year told a court on Monday that the
young defendant suffered mental issues from a "long history" of
physical, emotional and likely sexual abuse.
Robert Geffner was called to the witness stand by defense
attorneys, who concede that Joseph Hall, now 12, shot his father
at point blank range in May 2011 but argue that he should not be
held criminally responsible.
"It's clear that violence is the appropriate way in his
world," Geffner said. "A repeated theme in conversations with
him was killing. Another part of his focus was guns."
The case in Riverside County, east of Los Angeles, has drawn
attention for Jeffrey Hall's neo-Nazi associations and the
rarity of a parent being slain by a child as young as Joseph.
Kathleen Heide, a criminologist who specializes in juvenile
offenders, has said that 8,000 murder victims over the past 32
years were slain by their offspring, but only 16 of those were
committed by defendants age 10 or younger.
Since Hall is a juvenile, the purpose of the trial, now in
its second week in Riverside County Superior Court, is not to
determine his guilt or innocence but whether certain allegations
about his motives are true. If he's found responsible for the
crime, he could be sent to a juvenile facility until the age of
The outcome of the case, which is being heard without a
jury, hinges in large part on the boy's understanding of right
and wrong at the time. He may testify as early as this week.
Geffner, a psychologist and president of the Family Violence
and Sexual Assault Institute in San Diego, told the court that
Hall suffered a "long history of abuse - physical, emotional and
likely sexual" that led to Child Protective Services being
summoned to his home 23 times by the age of 10.
Geffner said that such abuse, which may have included being
whipped or forced to eat from the floor, can create "significant
neurological and physiological problems" as well as confusing
the difference between right and wrong in the child's mind.
"Children experience what's called learned helplessness,
that there's nothing that can be done. They suffer internal
feelings of hopelessness, helplessness," Geffner said. "There's
an unwritten message that there doesn't seem to be any
consequences to these types of behaviors. It teaches children
this is acceptable behavior."
In a videotaped police interview played in court last week,
Hall was seen to say that he was physically abused at home and
committed the shooting because he "wanted everything to stop."
Defense lawyers have said the boy was conditioned by his
father's violent, racist behavior, and killed the 32-year-old
man to put a halt to the physical abuse inflicted on him.
Prosecutors say the boy, who lived in a house with four
siblings, committed the slaying because his father was
threatening at the time to divorce his stepmother, Krista
McCary. Prosecutors said he was close to McCary and considered
her his true mother.
(Writing and additional reporting by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by
Cynthia Johnston and Paul Simao)