RIVERSIDE, Calif. (AP) — A 13-year-old boy who became one of the nation's youngest killers when he shot his neo-Nazi father to death as the man slept should be incarcerated in a state juvenile justice facility to protect him and the public, a judge was told Friday during a sentencing hearing.
As the baby-faced, blond-haired teen sat quietly in court, sometimes fidgeting in his chair or scribbling in a notebook, Deputy District Attorney Michael Soccio said the severity of the crime he committed at age 10 can't be overlooked.
Soccio said the boy needs to be in a more secure system, with fences and locked gates, where he would receive the necessary treatment. "He needs to be in a protective environment for his safety and that of others," the prosecutor said.
The Associated Press has not released the boy's name because of his age. He was convicted of second-degree murder. Riverside County Superior Court Judge Jean Leonard is expected to sentence the boy at the conclusion of the hearing sometime next week.
He could be sent to a juvenile lockup for as long as 10 years, although a juvenile justice official who testified said he could be paroled in seven years, perhaps even sooner with credit for good behavior.
The killing of Jeffrey Hall captured nationwide attention because of his son's age and the father's beliefs. The 32-year-old unemployed plumber was a regional leader of the National Socialist Movement and organized neo-Nazi rallies at synagogues and day labor sites.
He had hosted a meeting for his group at his house the day before his son killed him on May 1, 2011. Prosecutors say the boy shot his father behind the ear at point-blank range as he slept on a sofa after coming home from a night of drinking. The child later told police he was afraid he would have to choose between living with his father and his stepmother, who were headed for a divorce.
Attorneys for the boy have said he reacted after years of horrific abuse that left him with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, anger and fear issues, learning disabilities and other emotional problems.
The lawyers deferred their opening statement until the hearing resumes on Tuesday, when they will have a chance to call witnesses. But outside court, defense lawyer Punam Grewal said the teenager was abused almost from the day he was born.
"The only thing he learned was the world of fear and violence," she said. His mother and his attorneys want him sent to a private residential treatment center, where security would be lighter and therapy more intense.
Soccio didn't directly address the boy's emotional troubles during the hearing. He did call witnesses who testified about the safety and educational value at California's juvenile lockups. At one in Stockton, where the boy would likely be sent if prosecutors prevail, authorities go to great lengths to protect inmates, veteran parole agent George A. Valencia said.
The boy spent a few months there while he was being evaluated and seemed to do quite well, Valencia said, although he noted that at one point the youth threw urine on another juvenile's bed and lied about it to authorities.
Valencia acknowledged on cross-examination that at 13 the boy could be the youngest person in the Stockton lockup and would be housed with the most violent juvenile criminals, including gang members and people convicted of rape, murder and assault.
Attorneys for the boy have said his father's racist beliefs will make him a target behind bars, but Valencia dismissed that possibility, saying people who try to stay out of trouble in juvenile facilities generally can.
Defense attorney Matt Hardy asked, "Isn't it a fact that there's a gang fight going there nearly every day?" "Not to my knowledge," replied Valencia. During the hearing, the boy's interest seemed to wander from time to time as he went from paying attention to stretching or drumming his fingers.
At one point, just before a break, he leaned over and told his parole agent he was hungry.