(Advisory: Please note strong language in paragraph 13)
By Dana Feldman
RIVERSIDE, California (Reuters) - A boy accused of murdering his neo-Nazi father when he was 10 years old went on trial in California on Tuesday, with prosecutors portraying the child as violent and troubled and a defense lawyer saying he acted to protect his family.
Both sides agree that Joseph Hall, now 12, shot his father, Jeffrey Hall, at near point-blank range on May 1, 2011. He is being tried in juvenile court and could be sent to a juvenile facility until age 23.
The closely watched case in Riverside County, east of Los Angeles, has drawn attention for Jeffrey Hall's neo-Nazi associations and for the unusual circumstance of such a young child accused of murdering a parent.
Because Joseph Hall is a juvenile, Riverside County Superior Court Judge Jean Leonard, who is conducting the two-week trial, will not decide guilt or innocence, but make a finding of whether the allegations are true - a decision that hinges on the boy's understanding of right and wrong at the time.
"Joseph has had trouble all of his life. He's attacked teachers, tried to stab them and strangle them with cords. Every institution expelled him," Riverside County Deputy District Attorney Michael Soccio told the court in opening remarks.
"Jeffrey Hall was given full custody of Joseph and his sister. He tried to help him. His son had these issues long before he was a Nazi and (was) just a plumber. (Joseph) has ADD (attention deficit disorder), impulsivity and a violent streak," Soccio said.
The prosecutor, who displayed grisly photographs of the slain man showing a bullet wound above his left ear, said Joseph Hall knew that the gun was dangerous and had planned the crime, telling his sister about his intentions the day before.
"He understood that if he shot someone in the head, they'd be gone," Soccio said. "He knew what he did was wrong. He knew full well what that meant."
But Riverside County Deputy Public Defender Matt Hardy, in his opening statement, focused on the boy's upbringing by a father with ties to the National Socialist Movement that had "conditioned him with racism and violence."
The defense attorney said Jeffrey Hall, 32, took his son to neo-Nazi rallies. Child protective services had been called to the home 20 times, Hall added.
"Joseph, for his own reasons, decided to kill his father, to protect himself and his family, to stop the violence and be a hero," he said.
Hardy said that on the night before the shooting, Jeffrey Hall had gone to a National Socialist Movement party and left the gathering with a woman, returning home at 3:30 a.m.
On the night before the killing, Hardy said, Jeffrey Hall sent a text message to his wife, Joseph Hall's stepmother, reading: "Bitch, get out of the house, I'm divorcing you."
Joseph Hall attended the proceedings but showed little reaction to the statements or to the grim photographs of his dead father.
(Writing and additional reporting by Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Stacey Joyce)