California boy who shot neo-Nazi dad was abused - psychologist

Reuters Middle East

RIVERSIDE, Calif., Nov 5 (Reuters) - A psychologist

testifying in the murder trial of a California boy who killed

his neo-Nazi father last year told a court on Monday that the

young defendant suffered mental issues from a "long history" of

physical, emotional and likely sexual abuse.

Robert Geffner was called to the witness stand by defense

attorneys, who concede that Joseph Hall, now 12, shot his father

at point blank range in May 2011 but argue that he should not be

held criminally responsible.

"It's clear that violence is the appropriate way in his

world," Geffner said. "A repeated theme in conversations with

him was killing. Another part of his focus was guns."

The case in Riverside County, east of Los Angeles, has drawn

attention for Jeffrey Hall's neo-Nazi associations and the

rarity of a parent being slain by a child as young as Joseph.

Kathleen Heide, a criminologist who specializes in juvenile

offenders, has said that 8,000 murder victims over the past 32

years were slain by their offspring, but only 16 of those were

committed by defendants age 10 or younger.

Since Hall is a juvenile, the purpose of the trial, now in

its second week in Riverside County Superior Court, is not to

determine his guilt or innocence but whether certain allegations

about his motives are true. If he's found responsible for the

crime, he could be sent to a juvenile facility until the age of

23.

The outcome of the case, which is being heard without a

jury, hinges in large part on the boy's understanding of right

and wrong at the time. He may testify as early as this week.

Geffner, a psychologist and president of the Family Violence

and Sexual Assault Institute in San Diego, told the court that

Hall suffered a "long history of abuse - physical, emotional and

likely sexual" that led to Child Protective Services being

summoned to his home 23 times by the age of 10.

Geffner said that such abuse, which may have included being

whipped or forced to eat from the floor, can create "significant

neurological and physiological problems" as well as confusing

the difference between right and wrong in the child's mind.

"Children experience what's called learned helplessness,

that there's nothing that can be done. They suffer internal

feelings of hopelessness, helplessness," Geffner said. "There's

an unwritten message that there doesn't seem to be any

consequences to these types of behaviors. It teaches children

this is acceptable behavior."

In a videotaped police interview played in court last week,

Hall was seen to say that he was physically abused at home and

committed the shooting because he "wanted everything to stop."

Defense lawyers have said the boy was conditioned by his

father's violent, racist behavior, and killed the 32-year-old

man to put a halt to the physical abuse inflicted on him.

Prosecutors say the boy, who lived in a house with four

siblings, committed the slaying because his father was

threatening at the time to divorce his stepmother, Krista

McCary. Prosecutors said he was close to McCary and considered

her his true mother.

(Writing and additional reporting by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by

Cynthia Johnston and Paul Simao)

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