Psychologist: Abuse led boy to shoot dad

2012-11-06 12:10
A psychologist has told a court that a boy who suffered mental issues from abuse led him to kill his father.

A psychologist has told a court that a boy who suffered mental issues from abuse led him to kill his father. (Shutterstock)

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Riverside - A psychologist testifying in the murder trial of a California boy who at age 10 killed his neo-Nazi father 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 defence 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 the slain father 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 specialises 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.

Right and wrong

Since Hall is a juvenile, the purpose of the trial, now in its second week in Riverside County Superior Court, is not to determine guilt or innocence but whether certain allegations about the boy's motives are true. If he is found responsible for the crime, he could be sent to a juvenile facility until he is 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 time he was 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," he said. "There's an unwritten message that there doesn't seem to be any consequences to these types of behaviours."

On cross-examination, prosecutors sought to attack Geffner's credibility, establishing that he was expected to be paid $30 000 for his work on the case.

Racist behaviour

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".

Defence lawyers have said the boy was conditioned by his father's violent, racist behaviour, and killed the 32-year-old man to put a halt to the physical abuse inflicted on him.

Prosecutors say Hall, 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.

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