A now-12 year old boy is currently on trial for shooting his father in the head when he was 10. The kicker? His father was a fervent neo-Nazi.
In what’s bound to be a movie-of-the-week at a minimum (someone’s writing the script already, don’t even start), Joseph Hall shot his sleeping father in the head with a snub-nosed revolver.
Prosecutors make it clear that, at any other age, this wouldn’t even be an issue. Both they and the defense agree on what happened — that Joseph killed Jeff Hall, his father. As far as the events leading up to that moment, they have some points of contention.
There are number of issues the judge now has to consider — whether the environment Joseph grew up in amounts in child abuse, which provides a self-defense case, whether that environment eliminates Joseph’s ability to discern the difference between right and wrong, which provides a temporary insanity defense, and whether the child can be blamed for wanting out of such an upbringing, which would suggest less of a murder charge and more manslaughter.
The prosecutor, Michael Soccio, makes it clear that while he sympathizes with the boy, saying “he has a sweet side to him,” murder is still murder, and it was absolutely premeditated.
Joseph’s public defender counters that he was conditioned to violence. His attorney, Matthew J. Hardy, says that Joseph thought he would be considered a hero. “In a child’s mind, if he thought it was right, or at least didn’t think it was wrong, then he cannot be held responsible.”
Because of the age of the child, the trial will be held without a jury, leaving the judge as the sole decider in the case.
California’s penal code does not allow convictions against children under 14 for crimes if they were unable to determine its “wrongfulness.”
Joseph has also had a history of violence, including an incident where he wrapped a telephone cord around a teacher’s neck. Both parents had shown periods of abuse in some form or another. And when the self-admitted neo-Nazi actually wins custody of the boy from his mother…? I think we can extrapolate from there.
It’s a painful case that is certainly going to divide opinion. As far as what exactly was Joseph’s thinking, and what may have happened to prompt this sort of violence, we may never know.
Question: Does a child growing up in that environment even have a chance of living normally?