By Dana Feldman
RIVERSIDE, California (Reuters) - A judge on Friday delayed sentencing of a California boy convicted of murdering his neo-Nazi father, granting a defense request for a hearing at which more evidence will be presented about the mental state of the boy, who was 10 at the time.
Riverside County Superior Court Judge Jean Leonard set a contested dispositional hearing for April 15 in which lawyers for 12-year-old Joseph Hall were expected to call expert witnesses about his psychological condition.
In January, Hall was convicted of second-degree murder for shooting his father at point blank range in May 2011, killing him as he slept. The case made headlines because of the father's neo-Nazi ties and the rarity of a parent being killed by a child so young.
Jeffrey Hall, 32, was a regional director of the National Socialist Movement, a white separatist group, and the boy's trial centered on allegations of abuse and his grasp of right and wrong.
In sentencing Hall, Leonard could send him to a lockdown facility run by the Department of Juvenile Justice, where he would be the youngest child in custody and where he would likely remain until age 23.
Hall's family and other law and child experts say the child would have a better outcome at a facility with more opportunity for mental health treatment, and that such a program might see him released sooner. Prosecutors say they want him sent to a lockdown facility to protect the public.
The judge rejected a request by county mental health for an MRI on Hall, saying the court would not pay for the procedure. Defense attorneys said they would seek to have the MRI conducted and paid for through other means.
'PUBLIC SAFETY' CONCERNS
Defense attorneys argued at trial that Hall should not be held responsible for his actions because a lifetime of abuse and because his father's neo-Nazi activities had conditioned him to violence.
Prosecutors said that the boy, who lived with four siblings, shot his father because he thought he was planning to divorce his stepmother and break up the family. Hall shot his father with the man's own gun.
Following the brief hearing on Monday, defense attorney Matthew Hardy said that before sentencing, he wanted further exploration into expert testimony during the trial about neurological damage suffered by Hall.
"Juvenile court has to be focused on rehabilitation, and wherever he's placed those things need to be addressed," he said.
Prosecutors said an MRI would be "useless" on Hall because at the age of 12 his brain was still growing.
"Even if he has brain damage, it's not a primary concern of the court," Riverside County Deputy District Attorney Michael Soccio told reporters after the hearing. "Public safety and what we do to help him, these are the concerns."
Soccio said he was not opposed to sending Hall to a facility where he could be rehabilitated, but that public safety was the top priority.
"It hasn't been that long ago since he killed his father," Soccio said. "It's not appropriate to place him anywhere that's not a lockdown facility. He cannot go anywhere that he can get out or come and go as he pleases."
(Reporting by Dana Feldman; Editing by Cynthia Johnston, Lisa Shumaker and David Gregorio)