Jeffrey Russell Hall's Death Could Have Been Precipitated By His Extremist Views
RIVERSIDE, Calif. -- White supremacist Jeffrey Hall saw threats in the protesters who demonstrated outside his Southern California house. He installed a surveillance camera pointed at the cul-de-sac outside the tidy home where strangers might approach.
The threat he feared, however, was not outside. It came, authorities say, from within the home: His 10-year-old son shot him to death last week.
Police arriving at the house in the early morning hours on May 1 for a report of gunfire found Hall's body on a sofa.
Prosecutors won't say if they know the motive, but family court records portray a troubled boy who spent his first years hungry and living in filth while his parents went through a messy divorce that included accusations of child abuse.
Evidence about how he was reared is likely to surface in a case that raises questions about whether the boy is mature enough to know right from wrong and whether his father's extremist views played a role in the shooting.
"It's a matter of figuring out what happened and why it was done," said Kathleen M. Heide, a University of South Florida in Tampa professor who wrote, "Why Kids Kill Parents," and has treated child killers for 30 years.
Abuse and neglect are key precipitating factors in most killings of parents by their children, Heide said.
Few have been as young as the accused boy.
At his first court appearance Wednesday, the boy wore a baggy jail uniform and did not make eye contact with family members. He later asked to see his grandmother and stepmother. His biological mother, who has not seen him for years, left the courthouse without comment.
The Associated Press is not naming him because he is a minor. He's being held in juvenile detention and his four siblings are in protective custody.
Police declined to provide details about the shooting or how the boy got the handgun, which they believe came from the home. Police said they also found a rifle after the shooting.
Court records show Hall, a 32-year-old plumber with a leadership post in the Detroit-based National Socialist Movement, and ex-wife, Leticia Neal, slugged through a divorce and custody dispute nearly a decade ago in which each accused the other of child abuse.
In 2003, Child Protective Services removed the children from their mother's care after her 3-month-old twins by another father were hospitalized for failing to thrive. Hall's children were temporarily placed with his mother because he was on a three-year probation term for driving under the influence.
Social workers reported that witnesses said Neal had no electricity or gas, maggots were crawling on dishes, curdled milk was in the babies' bottles and the children were dirty and often hungry and thirsty.
Hall's children had bruises and injuries but social workers could not determine their origin or the extent of any abuse. Initial findings that Hall's children were aggressive and developmentally delayed were later revised and he was granted full custody in 2004.
Last year, Neal filed for joint custody, saying Hall's neo-Nazi ties made her "scared of what will happen to my kids." Hall opposed the request, noting the children had been taken from her when they were toddlers and she had not called or sent a birthday card or present in six years.
"The things they suffered while in their mother's care was deplorable," Hall wrote in November.
But Hall made no secret of his beliefs, telling the AP in October during his unsuccessful bid for a local water board seat that he supported an all-white nation. "I fly the swastika. I don't hide that," he said.
Hall was known in the suburbs about 60 miles east of Los Angeles for his neo-Nazi affiliation and views. He led rallies at a day labor hiring site and outside a local synagogue and his water board candidacy disturbed many residents in the region that experts say has become a hotbed for hate groups.
Hall used an amplifier to spread his message during regular meetings of the National Socialist Movement in his fenced-in backyard, where a swing set, small tent and child's basketball hoop could be seen Thursday. Blooming rose bushes were out front.
The house is in a well-kept subdivision that lies between rocky, rugged peaks near a freeway. Police were dispatched to the neighborhood about a year ago when a group of demonstrators protested his activities, prompting Hall to install the camera.
How Hall's beliefs could play out in the murder case is open to debate.
"If you're in an environment where your moral values are twisted, that could impact your ability to know right from wrong," said Larry Cunningham, a former juvenile prosecutor who is associate dean at St. John's School of Law in New York.
However, Michael Wald, who teaches a course in children and law at Stanford Law School, said that "socializing your children into repugnant ideologies is not something the courts will go into."
Deputy Public Defender Matt Hardy said he was considering an insanity defense for the boy, but he didn't elaborate.
Legal experts said such pleas are questionable for a child that young. "A child's brain is developing well into his 20s," Cunningham said. "But below the age of 10 it's not unusual for a child to have difficulty knowing right from wrong."
Hall wrote that his son and daughter with Neal had rebounded from being withdrawn, aggressive and developmentally delayed.
With the help of counseling, they were doing better in classes and participating in after-school activities such as ballet and soccer and both were "healthy, happy, outgoing, well rounded children," he said.
The boy, who had previously been removed from several schools for "wild and sometimes violent actions," Hall wrote, "has shown great progress and is no longer in danger of being removed from his school."
In fact, he was being taught at home as a pupil of the River Springs Charter School.
Tamara Rose, an education specialist who visited the home every 20 days, wrote to the court that she was impressed with the education the children were receiving and noted that the home was always decorated with seasonal crafts made by the kids.
She declined to comment for the story. A message left at the school's offices seeking comment was not returned.
J.T. Ready, a former member of the National Socialist Movement who lives in Arizona, told the AP he knew Hall for years, has been to his house numerous times and never saw any family problems.
Ready was planning to join him next weekend to patrol the Mexican border to fight illegal immigration.
Hall held a meeting of the Southern California chapter of his neo-Nazi group at his home a little over a week ago to rally his troops.
"You guys get your Glocks cocked and get ready to rock," the New York Times quoted him as saying. "We're going to the border. That's how we do it."
He was dead the next day.