Young Boy Guilty of Murdering His Racist, Abusive Father
By Jesse B. Gill
One of the saddest crime stories to come out of the Inland Empire in the last few years just got sadder.
Riverside Juvenile Court Judge Jean P. Leonard ruled Jan. 14 that a 12-year-old boy was guilty of murdering his father, who happened to be a major player in the Inland Empire’s neo-Nazi set. The boy was 10 in May 2011, when he shot his father—32-year-old Jeff Hall—in the head with a .357 Magnum revolver.
Because of his age, the boy hasn’t been identified by most local media outlets. In May 2011, The New York Times printed the boy’s name—Joseph.
The elder Hall, reportedly a plumber by trade, led the Riverside chapter of the National Socialist Movement. He’s been painted as outspoken and ambitious. He ran for a seat on the Western Municipal Water District board against an incumbent. He ran as a National Socialist and white supremacist. He lost, but was able to garner just short of a third of the vote.
Hall—who had five children, including Joseph, the oldest—divorced Joseph’s mom not long after he was born. Three years later, Hall was awarded full custody of the boy.
After his arrest, Joseph told police that Hall often abused him and his stepmother. The stepmother—28-year-old Krista—told detectives the same thing, according to court documents. She said Hall punched, kicked and yelled at Joseph more often than he did his other children, usually on a daily basis, with varying levels of intensity. Joseph would be punished for being too loud, or even getting in Hall’s way, according to the documents.
When police went through the Hall home after the killing, they found several firearms. They also found “filthy” conditions that were “not sanitary” for the children to live in, according to court documents. (After the killing, Krista was arrested on suspicion of criminal firearm storage and child neglect).
Joseph’s lawyer—a deputy public defender named Matt Hardy—painted the boy as an impressionable mind molded by the violent environment he grew up in. Hardy alleged—and witnesses testified—that Hall often abused Joseph.
And Joseph continued that cycle of violence well before he used his father’s gun. The boy’s grandmother told police about his violent history; attempting to stab his sister and other kids with a pencil and once trying to choke a teacher using a telephone cord.
In the pre-dawn hours of May 1, 2011, Hall slept on a couch on the first floor of his two-story home. According to court testimony, Joseph snuck into a closet in his parent’s room and took his father’s .357. He walked quietly downstairs to where his father slept. He pulled the large revolver’s hammer back before pointing the weapon at his father’s head and pulled the trigger.
Hall was declared dead at the scene and Joseph has been in custody ever since.
In an interview after his arrest, Joseph told investigators that he shot his father because he was tired of the beatings Hall regularly dished out to the boy and his stepmother, according to court documents. He also suspected Hall was cheating on his stepmother and “thought he might have to choose which person he would live with.”
Successful murder prosecutions are often built on a foundation of motive, opportunity and physical evidence (including the body and the murder weapon). Prosecutors had everything they needed to successfully paint young Joseph Hall a murderer.
Detectives found the murder weapon under a bed in Joseph’s room. Prosecutors argued that Joseph knew what he was doing and why he was doing it. Leonard agreed, ruling that Joseph was guilty of second-degree murder.
So regardless of the ways Joseph and his stepmom said he was abused, regardless of the way he lived in squalor, regardless of his fear that his family would be ripped apart, regardless of the fact that his father was the type many of us love to hate, Joseph’s act was a murderous one, according to the law.
Admitting that the case was tragic, chief prosecutor Mike Soccio spoke to reporters after Leonard’s ruling, commending Judge Leonard for finding Joseph guilty.
“I was concerned that because of his age, it would be very difficult for any court to make what I felt was the correct legal finding,” Soccio told reporters.
Joseph will appear in court again Feb. 15, when a judge will have another tough call to make—to either send him to a specialized rehab program where he might receive the treatment he’d need to come back from killing his dad and become a contributing member of society (whatever that means) or to send him to a juvenile detention facility, where’d likely be lumped in with the hardest of hardcore criminals of the under-18 set.
In either case, it’s likely that Joseph will remain in custody until he’s at least 23.
Hardy also addressed reporters after Leonard’s ruling, expressing his hope that Joseph won’t be turned into a “media freak.” The boy, Hardy said, deserves a better shot at life than the one he’s gotten so far.
“This young man deserves a lot better,” Hardy said. “He deserves a loving atmosphere and he deserves a chance to be something other than a freak.”