RIVERSIDE, Calif. -- The young son of a neo-Nazi knew right from wrong when he shot and killed his father, and he is therefore responsible for second-degree murder, a judge ruled on Monday.
Joseph Hall was 10 years old when he shot his sleeping father in the head in 2011. Now 12, he could be held in state custody until age 23.
Because Joseph was so young at the time of the murder, the case hinged on whether he understood that shooting his father, Jeffrey Hall, 32, was wrong at the time.
The judge, Jean P. Leonard, of Riverside County Superior Court, noted that after the shooting, Joseph put the gun under his bed; he did not cry when the police arrived, even as other family members were sobbing; and testimony indicated that he might have told his younger sister several days before that he planned to shoot their father.
"These actions show the court that he knew his actions were wrong and did not want to get caught," Judge Leonard said in court Monday. "The killing was not spontaneous but planned."
The trial, which began in October but was delayed for months and only resumed last week, offered a rare and intimate glimpse into the life of a neo-Nazi's son.
Joseph had been violent almost his entire life, according to testimony, beginning before his father joined the National Socialist Movement. He hit his sisters and his stepmother, stabbed classmates at school with pencils and once tried to strangle a teacher with a telephone cord. As a result, he was expelled from at least half a dozen schools.
"He was very impulsive and very violent towards the other children and teachers," his stepmother, Krista McCary, testified during the trial. "Hitting, kicking, biting, scratching, stabbing with sharp objects, hitting with objects."
Mr. Hall also beat Joseph regularly for years before the murder, the judge noted on Monday. The prosecutor, Michael Soccio, said he hoped the court would get Joseph help.
"Joseph is a little boy, and his life has been very, very sad," Mr. Soccio said after the ruling Monday. But he added that he would have been concerned had the judge ordered Joseph's release "He's a very dangerous boy," Mr. Soccio said.
Matthew J. Hardy, the public defender representing Joseph, said he planned to appeal. He said that there was "no basis" to find that Joseph knew his actions were wrong, and that it would be "a complete tragedy" if Joseph were sent to state custody. Sitting quietly in court, Joseph, slight, blond and wearing glasses and a button-down shirt, showed no visible reaction when the judge found him guilty of the murder charge and another count of using a firearm. He is scheduled to be sentenced next month, when Judge Leonard will most likely determine where he will be sent.
If he ends up in state custody, Joseph would be the youngest person in the state's Department of Juvenile Detention system, which houses minors who have committed serious crimes, according to a state official.
Mr. Hardy had argued that the environment in the Hall home glorified violence, and, given his young age, left Joseph unable to understand right from wrong. During the trial, Mr. Hardy showed a photograph of Joseph holding a toy gun and giving a Nazi salute, alongside a hooded clansman, smiling.
The day before the murder, a reporter for The New York Times attended a National Socialist Movement meeting at the Hall home while reporting on the group. As members talked about ways to fund the white supremacist movement, brandished weapons and drank, Joseph sat quietly on the stairs. He said he was having fun, even showing off a new belt with a Nazi insignia on the buckle.
Around 4 a.m. the next morning, Joseph pulled his father's .357 handgun -- which he called "the bad gun," the judge said -- down from the shelf in his parents' bedroom. He walked downstairs, where his father lay sleeping on the couch, and shot Mr. Hall in the head. Then he returned to his room and stashed the gun under the bed.
After the police arrived, as his family members wailed, Joseph was escorted to a squad car, where he sat with Officer Michael Foster and talked about what had just happened. He asked questions like, "Do people get more than one life?" Officer Foster said.
"He was sad about it," Officer Foster said in testimony. "He wished he hadn't done it."
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.