Last week, a judge in California finally decided the fate of a violent and damaged child who murdered his neo-Nazi father a few years ago, when he was just 10 years old. Amy Wallace reports on the tragic, impossible case of Jeff and Joseph Hall
A son kills a father and the question is why. In the case of 10-year-old Joseph Hall, the answer seemed simple: The boy had been raised around hate.
Just hours before Joseph palmed a loaded Rossi .357 magnum and fired it into his father’s skull, the boy had sat in his suburban tract house in Riverside, California, under a huge red, white, and blue flag that was tacked near the ceiling next to a heating vent. The flag sported a black swastika framed by the letters “USA” and “NSM,” for the National Socialist Movement. That afternoon Joseph’s father, Jeff—a rising star in the nation’s largest neo-Nazi group—was leading a monthly meeting.
“You guys get your Glocks cocked and be ready to rock!” Jeff exhorted his dozen or so recruits, who sat in chairs arranged in front of the living room’s lumpy beige couch. “We’re going to the border!” A big man, 6-foot-3-inches and heavyset, Jeff grew animated as he talked of abolishing all non-white immigration, by force if necessary. As his father bellowed, little Joseph—skinny, sandy-haired, and blue-eyed—bowed his head, intent on winding a kite string around a green plastic handle.
At 4 a.m. the following morning, May 1, 2011, Jeff lay on his back on that same lumpy couch, sleeping off a whiskey bender. The lights were on in the living room, as was the TV, and Joseph stepped around his father’s splayed sneakers as he got up close, taking aim just behind Jeff’s left ear. He used four fingers to cock the gun, two to fire it. The bullet entered just inches from the German military iron cross tattoo—overlaid with a skull—that Jeff had inked on the back of his close-shaven head.
When police arrived, the boy admitted what he’d done, but still, the first officers on the scene assumed he would not be arrested. Joseph was so small. And Jeff —his once-imposing body now lifeless, his swastika flag still draped overhead—was clearly a bad guy, right?
The front-page headline in The New York Times connected the dots: “Neo-Nazi Father Is Killed; Son, 10, Steeped in Beliefs, Is Accused.” The boy had been raised around hate. You reap what you sow. The answer seemed simple. It was anything but.
It is exceedingly rare for a child to kill a parent, and even rarer for a child as young as Joseph. Between 1976 and 2007, according to criminologist Kathleen Heide, just 33 children under the age of 12 were arrested for parricide in the United States—about one a year. America’s most notorious parent killers, Lyle and Erik Menendez, aged 21 and 18, used shotguns to mow down their wealthy mother and father in their Beverly Hills mansion in 1989. Afterwards, they bought a Porsche, a Rolex and a restaurant—cementing the belief that they were motivated by greed.
Joseph Hall’s motives were different. On that, at least, everyone agrees. He didn’t kill to get rich. He acted on impulse. Like he always did.
In his videotaped confession, recorded the morning of the shooting, Joseph looked far smaller than a normal 10-year-old. It’s hard to know why this is—he was tall for his age: an even 5 feet. But there was something in his affect that made him seem tiny. Sitting on a blue bench, his hands resting on his scuffed up knees, Joseph wore jean shorts and a black t-shirt that said, “Video Games vs. Homework.” His sneakers were so worn that a couple of his toes protruded. As a detective read Joseph his rights, his stepmother, Krista, stroked his hair, which was crooked because the boy had cut it himself. He did that sometimes.
The detective asked if Joseph knew the difference between right and wrong. He said yes. Give me an example of something you did that was wrong, the detective said. “Well,” he responded, matter-of-fact, “I shot my dad.” Joseph took Krista’s hand. There were no tears.
Joseph told the detective that a few days before, his father had threatened to kill the family. “He said he was gonna turn off the smoke alarms and burn the whole house down when we were asleep,” he said. “That really scared me.” Speaking with a slight lisp, Joseph said his Dad had recently thrown a glass in Krista’s face, cutting her. He said he was afraid Dad was going to do something that would make Mom go away. Joseph called his stepmother Mom. He hadn’t seen his real mom in more than six years. “I didn’t want my mom to leave,” he said of Krista. “Dad was kinda mean. So I thought maybe it would be him to leave.”
Joseph didn’t think of killing his father until right before he did it, he said, when he woke up suddenly in his upstairs bedroom. He knew the low shelf where his father kept the loaded .357. “I wasn’t really thinking about if he was gonna die or get unconscious,” he said. “I just thought maybe… he might learn a lesson… I was trying to get him to know how I feel when I get hurt… Then maybe we could go back to being friends and start all over.” So Joseph got the gun and went downstairs. Recalling what happened next, the boy said he got as close as he could to his sleeping father—”It had to be less than one feet from the couch”—and squeezed the trigger. “That’s a loud gun,” he told the detective.
At one point during the interrogation, the detective left the room. That’s when Krista—a plump, brown-haired woman of 25—handed Joseph a takeout box containing a burger and fries. “You just eat,” she urged, and Joseph complied. Chewing, he looked puzzled. “I just think I’m gonna miss Dad kinda,” he told Mom. “If he’s dead.”
The first day of his trial, Joseph—then 12—sat beside his lawyer, Matthew Hardy, in a fifth floor courtroom in downtown Riverside, 60 miles east of Los Angeles. As he listened to the charges against him, I took his measure. Lanky and twitchy, he wore charcoal pants and a lavender short-sleeved polo shirt one size too big for him. Despite the appetite suppressing effects of the many medications he took to control his behavior, he had grown four inches and gained 16 pounds during his 18 months in juvenile hall. But he still looked like a child. His hair stuck to his head in a way that suggested he’d tried to comb it to look presentable. He kept adjusting a pair of rectangular eyeglasses.
Rising to address the court, Chief District Attorney Mike Soccio knew he had a tough job ahead. “All you have to hear is somebody killed a Nazi, and most people say, ’Good,’” he told me later, noting that Joseph was a “sympathetic killer” whose sad history and frail, vacant affect would tug at everyone in the courtroom. The defendant tugged at Soccio, too. In his 23 years as a prosecutor, he’d never tried a child for anything, let alone murder.
In his opening argument, Soccio acknowledged right away that Jeff Hall’s belief system “makes everybody react viscerally, on a deep level, in a judgmental way.” But Soccio insisted the elder Hall’s Nazism had nothing to do with the case. “Joseph would have shot his father even if he’d been a member of the Peace and Freedom Party,” he said. “The truth of the matter is real simple: Joseph Hall decided to kill his father for a selfish reason. He’s no different than any murderer.”
Opening for the defense, Hardy said he agreed with Soccio on one thing. “Joseph Hall for his own reasons decided to kill his father. To protect himself and his family, to stop the violence, and to be a hero,” said the public defender. While Hardy stipulated that the case was not about Jeff’s beliefs, he insisted that Nazism was relevant when it came to assessing Jeff’s only son. “In terms of how this young man, who was born with these problems, was conditioned, it’s very important,” Hardy told Superior Court Judge Jean P. Leonard. (There’s no jury in criminal cases against minors.) “How do kids learn what’s right or wrong? They do it by bouncing off their parents. Who was his role model? His father.”
Throughout all this, Joseph’s thin face registered blank, as if he were somewhere else. When his lawyer cautioned that he shouldn’t speak unless the judge asked him to, Joseph nodded his head politely, like he was learning the rules to an interesting new game. But mostly he stared straight ahead, his hands clasped before him, his affect flat. The first indication that he might understand the gravity of the proceedings came when Soccio played the 911 call made at 4:02 a.m. on that Sunday morning in 2011. “My stepson shot my husband!” cried Krista on the tape, her other four children wailing in the background. “He’s bleeding!” As Joseph listened, his visage shifted ever so slightly, as if his muscles had contracted a stitch. His shoulders hunched and he focused his gaze on the legal pad on the table in front of him. He was keeping meticulous notes.
So, of course, was I. Like the half dozen other journalists who sat in the courtroom’s front row, I was furiously scribbling down details—”Joseph hid gun under his bed,” or “bedrooms at crime scene smelled like urine,” or “empty beer bottles strewn about”—in the hopes that later, they would help capture the truth. But as I scribbled, I was thinking what a terrible hand Joseph had been dealt. An officer would testify that just minutes after the killing Joseph asked, “Do people get more than one life?” Whether he was asking on his father’s behalf or his own, the question was wrenching. Joseph’s one life had been unspeakably bleak, but he seemed to be wishing for a do-over. I pitied him.
Later, when I told Soccio this, the prosecutor said he’d heard it before. When he first got the case, he’d taken a beating online from people who said to try Joseph was to blame the victim. When a few of these people called Soccio’s office, he recalls, “I said, ’Look, if you’d like, I’ll see if the Court can release him to your custody tonight.’ I said, ’I don’t think you ought to sleep too soundly, and don’t piss him off. But if you really think everything’s okay, here, take him.’”
Soccio’s comments went to the heart of the trouble with Joseph. He’d endured awfulness that no child should. But despite that, and because of it, it was naïve to think he had emerged unscathed. But this case wasn’t really about who to blame. It was about what to do. What to do with Joseph.
He had been a difficult kid since birth. Impulsive and explosive, Joseph had gotten expelled from at least six schools for violence: choking, biting, scratching, hitting, kicking, head-butting, stabbing with sharp c s. Early on, his father’s mother, JoAnn Becker—a biology teacher who spent a lot of time with the family—said she didn’t feel capable of babysitting him. He was just too much.
Yet Jeff seemed committed to his son. After a protracted battle with his first wife, Jeff had won sole custody of Joseph and his younger sister Shirley. Jeff had also tried to address Joseph’s challenges, meeting regularly with school officials and, lately, home-schooling him. How skilled Jeff was at this task is an open question. He’d dropped out of high school after 11th grade.
Joseph’s life was marked by tumult and want. His parents, who married two weeks after his birth, stayed together for less than two years. That’s when Jeff took up with Krista. For a while, Jeff worked as a stocker at La-Z-Boy, making about $11 an hour. When he was 25, he became a plumber—a decent job that paid more than $400 a week before tas. But after utilities, groceries, asthma medicine for Shirley and gas for Jeff’s 1993 Chrysler Fifth Avenue, there was never a penny left. Krista soon had a daughter, and would have two more. It seemed their household always lacked for something.
It didn’t help, Jeff would write in court declarations, that Joseph and Shirley’s time with their mother (who at first had joint custody) usually left them malnourished and, in Joseph’s case at least, filled with rage. In a June 2002 filing, Jeff told how his son, then two, “was always in attack mode. He would attack other children and be abusive toward everyone. He was unruly and absolutely impossible to control.” In later filings, Jeff would allege that Joseph had been sexually abused by his mother’s boyfriend—an experience that Joseph said he didn’t remember. Psychiatric evaluators would later conclude his behavior was consistent with that of a child who’d experienced sexual abuse. At trial, those same experts would say that Joseph’s problems—diagnosed as attention deficit disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, conduct disorder, and a variety of learning disabilities—stemmed in part from his mother’s abuse of drugs and alcohol while he was in the womb, an accusation she denied to family members.
For her part, Joseph’s mother alleged in a handwritten declaration that Joseph’s father “has an alcohole [sic] and drug problem” and “a bad temper and anger problem as well.” As the custody battle continued in 2010, she notified the court of Jeff’s membership in the NSM. Jeff, she wrote, “is curently [sic] ’President’ in the Neo-Nazi group and I am really scared of what will happen to my kids.” Despite this, the court affirmed Jeff’s sole legal custody.
Jeff had gotten involved in his first extremist group, the virulent anti-immigration reform group Save Our State, towards the end of 2007, after Krista’s sister was killed in a hit-and-run accident. Jeff believed the other driver was an illegal immigrant from Mexico, which galled him. There had also been an incident, he told family members, in which some Latino kids bullied Shirley at school. Then, there was the economic downturn that had hit the Inland Empire, the area encompassing Riverside and San Bernardino counties just east of Los Angeles. What had been a housing boom went bust, and Jeff lost his plumbing job. He would never find steady work again. Not that he looked very hard. As public assistance helped with groceries, and they stayed in a house that Jeff’s mom owned, Jeff spent much of his time promoting the NSM.
Once a major center for citrus production, the Inland Empire—a 27,000 square-mile expanse which includes part of the Sonoran desert—is the nation’s 12th largest metropolitan area. It is a place of low-wage jobs, most in the warehousing, service and manufacturing industries. It is also fertile ground for hate groups.
“With white supremacist groups, if you look at it over the last 20 years, Southern California has been like Whac-A-Mole,” said Brian Levin, the director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University San Bernardino. “And Riverside and San Bernardino counties are particularly active.” The reasons why include economic strife—the unemployment rate there hit 15 percent in 2010—and rapid changes in the ethnic makeup of the region.
It’s unclear exactly when Jeff joined the NSM, which is headquartered in another financially strapped city, Detroit, and claims chapters in 48 states. But Levin—who tracks the NSM, among other groups, and had met and interviewed Jeff at neo-Nazi rallies, often held in places like Home Depot parking lots, where day laborers gather—says it’s probably no coincidence that the first time Jeff’s name pops up on the NSM website is in early 2009, not long after President Barack Obama’s first inauguration. For extremists, Levin said, Obama is “the poster guy for the ’horrible’ demographic change that is taking place.”
NSM leaders don’t reveal membership numbers, but those who track such groups —the Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center—estimate they have less than 1,000 in the United States. The group was founded in St. Paul in 1974 by former deputies of George Lincoln Rockwell, the creator of the American Nazi Party, who’d been assassinated by a former member in 1967. According to Levin, from the start the NSM embraced German Nazi uniforms, symbology and command structure as a way to stake out an “authentic Nazi” identity. “They didn’t just take a couple of drops of the extract,” Levin said. “They dumped the whole bottle in there.” To this day, members proudly don the uniforms of the Brownshirts, the paramilitary wing of the German Nazi party.
Today, the NSM has a reputation for courting young members with its Viking Youth Corps—aimed at 14- to 17-year-olds—which some have likened to a neo-Nazi Boy Scouts. It also runs its own record label, releasing white power rock by groups like Racially Provoked Attack (songs include “Jew Mother Fucker” and “Waste of a Bullet”). The site’s promo for a group called Mass Destruction boasts that its album is “brutal, angry and aggressive” and “will hit your eardrums like two shotgun blasts to the chest at close range.” In trial, a psychologist would testify that Joseph said his father made him listen to this kind of music.
To glimpse Jeff from behind was to know where he stood. The back of his oversized head, which he kept shaved clean, served as a canvas for that saucer-sized skull tattoo. In baggy jeans and a black t-shirt sporting a glow-in-the-dark death’s head and the Nazi motto “Meine Ehre heißt Treue”—”My Honor is Loyalty”—he could look doughy, like he drank too much of the home brew he liked to make. But in his crisp black SS uniform, with its long, fitted jacket, rune collar insignias and red swastika armband, Jeff seemed to stand up straighter.
During the year before Jeff’s death, all these details would be documented by Julie Platner, a freelance photographer who shot hundreds of hours of video in the hopes of building a documentary around Jeff. To review Platner’s footage is to see a couple of things, one of them surprising, one of them less so. First, the Hall’s residence—thanks to Krista—had a homey feel that belied Jeff’s ideology, with a wreath on the front door and festive decorations for Easter. Second, the footage showed unequivocally that nothing made Jeff prouder than the fact that Joseph had begun to join him on armed border operations in California and Arizona—operations designed, as Jeff put it, “to defend our nation from the invasion from Mexico.” At one NSM meeting just a few weeks before he died, Jeff boasted that “by the age of nine, my son was able to operate a Gen-1 night vision and infrared scope.” His voice grew husky with emotion as he recalled these excursions, on which he also gave his son lessons in target practice. “At the age of nine, my son’s out at the border.”
How many nine-year-olds do you know who have gripped the handle of a .357 magnum? We all hope that the answer is none. But most children watch TV, as Joseph did. And what he watched would further poison the ideas taking shape in his jumbled child’s brain.
Some time before the killing, Joseph had seen an episode of Law & Order: SVU in which a boy kills his abusive step dad and receives no punishment. “Nothing happened. He told the truth. He wasn’t arrested or anything,” Joseph would tell a detective, who asked whether Joseph had thought about the show before shooting his father. The boy said yes—and that he believed “the exact same thing could maybe happen” to him.
What happened to him was nothing like that. Joseph was arrested and sent to juvenile hall to await trial. When he arrived, the facility wanted to replace his disintegrating sneakers but didn’t have shoes small enough to fit his feet. When a pair was finally tracked down, “he was so happy he wanted to know, ’Can I take them home when I leave?’” the prosecutor told me, shaking his head.
Joseph’s public defender said juvie was the first stable environment Joseph had ever experienced. “For the first time in his life, he had three squares, nobody was beating the crap out of him, nothing smelled bad and he was going to school,” Hardy said. When Joseph was arrested, he was flunking the fourth grade. Less than two years later, he was finishing the seventh grade, according to his attorney.
Not that he didn’t have problems inside, his attorney said. Once, he threatened another inmate, saying, “Well, I’ll just wait for you to go to sleep, and I’ll kill you.” During a P.E. class on another day, he used the words “bitches” and “nigger” to describe the opposing team and threatened them with violence. His stepmother Krista testified, meanwhile, that he told her about a “Hate List” that he’d assembled while in custody. She said the list, which was never found, named “people he was going to kill when he got out.”
Krista testified in Joseph’s trial after agreeing to plead guilty to felony child endangerment (for having a loaded gun in a house full of kids) in exchange for dropping further charges. The plea deal was relevant, Joseph’s attorney told the judge as he offered an alternate scenario to explain the killing: Joseph, he argued, hadn’t acted alone.
Jeff was having an affair. Joseph knew it. “He’s been on the phone a lot, texting a lot when Mom isn’t around,” the boy told a detective. Krista knew it, too. She also knew Jeff was threatening to leave her. In the hours before Jeff died, according to court records, he sent Krista a series of texts. “You’re a bitch. Pick up your shit. We are over,” said one. “Fuck it. I’m not coming home. Whore,” said another. A third said, “I’m divorcing you.” Before Jeff fell asleep on the couch for the last time, phone records showed he had a lengthy conversation with his girlfriend, Sam, who lived in Arizona.
Seven months after Joseph was arrested, his attorney recounted, he told a corrections officer that Krista had told him to kill his father. Joseph’s lawyer believes to this day that this is true. “No one had a stronger motive to kill Jeff than Krista,” Hardy said in court, noting that the morning Jeff was shot, Krista at first told the police, “I killed him!” She would later say she was just trying to protect Joseph and had nothing to do with Jeff’s death. But Hardy alleged that Krista directed Joseph to do what she didn’t want to do herself. “She exploited a frightened, damaged child who clung to her because she was more maternal, more parental than anyone else in his life,” he said. “She used this young man to pull the trigger.”
Soccio says this is nonsense. But whatever the truth, the picture was getting darker. A 10-year-old boy had heard his father on the phone, wooing another woman. The boy felt loyalty to the woman he called “Mom” because his real mother had failed him. He was the oldest child, the only boy. Of course he felt protective, not just of Krista but of the link to normalcy—however tenuous—that she seemed to provide.
Soccio says one thing is for sure: Whether he killed of his own accord or not, “At least one of those big stories [Joseph told] has to be an absolute lie.” Yes, the prosecutor told me, Joseph had “this sweet demeanor sometimes and seems to be one dimensional and nothing complicated about him. And yet, we know he had to lie. His behavior was spooky, and he exhibited signs of dangerousness. And he is dangerous. He’s a very dangerous boy.”
Did an atmosphere of hate drive Joseph to kill? Did his stepmother? Or was it his childish misreading of a TV show? Or a complicated amalgam of factors, tangled together in a damaged brain? Was Joseph confused or deranged, a victim or a victimizer? Had he simply changed his story and implicated Krista because he was tired of being locked up? Or did he finally find the strength to tell the truth, months after the killing, because he was no longer under her sway?
There were many questions, but Judge Leonard focused on one: Did Joseph know when he pulled the trigger that what he was doing was wrong? Joseph’s lawyer insisted the boy’s ability to discern such things was hindered by the damage caused in utero by his mother’s substance abuse and by developmental delays resulting from constant neglect. The judge was not persuaded. In January, she found the charges against Joseph “true”—the terminology used in juvenile court to mean guilty—for second-degree murder.
“This was not a naive little boy unaware of the ways of the world. The minor had made trips to the border, shot guns, and knew about hate,” the judge said. “But on this particular night, there was no screaming or yelling between father and son, as there usually was. Father was on the couch asleep.”
In her finding, it was clear that Leonard—who at one point during the trial had said that Joseph’s coughing and pallid skin were arousing her “motherly instincts”—felt compassion for the boy. “He was abused, and he was neglected from the womb forward,” she said. “And this had to have had an effect on his thought process. His father’s fascination with the NSM affected the minor and taught him things that children do not normally even think about…. He learned that if you hit me, I will hit you. Or as the minor said”—and here the judge quoted from a police interview with Joseph—”If you want to kill somebody, you shoot them in the head.” Still, she noted, Joseph had told a psych evaluator that his father forbade Joseph to point even toy guns at people. “I wish I could tell you that this case represents the worst physical and emotional child abuse I’ve ever seen,” the judge said. “Sadly, it does not.”
Joseph listened impassively as the judge read her finding. Again, there were no tears. Had an adult committed his crime, it would be a felony punishable by 40 years to life in prison. Because Joseph is a child, however, California law says he can only be held until he turns 23. This fact loomed in the minds of everyone involved in the case: Wherever Joseph would spend the next 10 years—A prison? A psychiatric hospital? Some sort of facility designed to teach the coping skills that most of us take for granted?—would determine the kind of man he would be when he once again walked free. I thought of how Soccio had responded to his critics, offering to let them take Joseph home for the night. In a sense, it would only be a matter of time before that actually came to pass: in 2024, if not sooner, Joseph would be living among us once again.
For months, Joseph’s lawyer insisted that the three facilities run by California’s Division of Juvenile Justice were absolutely the wrong places for him. “You put that kid in the DJJ, you may be creating a serial killer,” Hardy told me, noting that if placed there, Joseph would be the youngest person in DJJ custody. “This kid needs treatment.” The prosecutor didn’t disagree. “I’ve known since the day I met him that he’s coming home, so we have a real situation,” Soccio said after the judge’s ruling. “We all have a huge role [to play] in this one.”
After Judge Leonard found Joseph guilty, as the bailiff cleared the courtroom, Soccio asked Hardy for permission to do something he’s never done after winning a case: reassure the perp that it wasn’t personal. “I told him I didn’t want him to think I didn’t like him,” Soccio told me later, recalling how he squatted down beside the boy, leaning in close. “I wanted him to know that if he ever wanted anything from me, if I could help him, I would. And I also told him, ’You’re going to be in some places now that people are going to want you to be tough, and you’ve got to try to resist the worst part of being tough.’ I mean, he does have to hold his own. But depending on where the courts puts him, he’s either going to be a predator or prey.”
In mid-February, Judge Leonard received a report from the state Department of Mental Health that said Joseph was well-suited to a group home that focused on addressing developmental and psychological problems. Joseph’s public defender was thrilled. “It’s more than terrific,” Hardy wrote me in an email. “It’s scientifically responsible.” One facility under consideration offered not only 24-hour supervision but counseling in anger and stress management and something called “moral reasoning training.” Summing up why Joseph needs these things, Hardy told me, “To put it very crudely, his brain is wired wrong because of what he’s gone through. We need to rewire his brain.”
Meanwhile, as he awaited sentencing, Joseph was doing better than ever. He was on the honor roll at juvie, doing algebra, playing sports and reading books about Italy because, his lawyer said, he was interested in the churches there. His paternal grandmother, who never missed a hearing and always stayed afterward to visit with Joseph, attributed this improvement to the structure the facility provides.
“Joseph needs that,” JoAnn Becker told me. “Jeff and Krista couldn’t provide that. And if they tried to send him to me, I couldn’t do it either.” I asked her why. After all, while Joseph’s sister Shirley had been returned to their birth mother, Krista and Jeff’s three daughters now lived with JoAnn in San Diego. What, I asked, did juvenile hall give Joseph that his own grandmother couldn’t? Discipline, she answered. And, if necessary, a show of force.
“Knowing someone has a can of pepper spray establishes boundaries,” JoAnn said, referring to the guards in juvie. “I don’t have pepper spray.”
In March, another attorney joined Joseph’s defense team: Punam Grewal, an Ivy League-educated litigator (and mother of two young sons) who believed there was another argument to be made on his behalf—this one focusing on every child’s right to an appropriate education. Federal law mandates that disabled and abused children be provided educational and rehabilitative services. Thus, Grewal argued, sending Joseph to the Department of Juvenile Justice would violate his civil rights.
Months passed. Hearings came and went. More than a year had gone by since his trial got underway. Joseph turned 13. Still, there was no decision.
Then, last Thursday, after hearing arguments from both the prosecution and the defense, Judge Leonard issued her sentence: 40 years to life. But that sentence—the same as what an adult would receive—is a technicality. Joseph will spend at least the next seven years in a state juvenile facility, where he will be the youngest inmate. When he is 20, he will be eligible for a hearing that could initiate parole proceedings, and—potentially—he will then win his freedom and rejoin society. At most, barring any future legal maneuvering, he’ll serve ten more years. “I know some will be sad about my decision and there may be some tears,” Leonard said from the bench. But Joseph didn’t cry.