The judge for the murder trial of a Riverside boy who shot his neo-Nazi father two years ago heard testimony from the boy’s tearful younger sister this fall. The trial prompts a discussion about parricide, commonly defined as the murder of parents by their children, and why children kill their parents.
The boy, now 12, is on trial for patricide, or the murder of his father. The boy’s father was a neo-Nazi who, according to the defense, poisoned his son’s thoughts with racism and subjected him to violence and abuse. The father took the boy to neo-Nazi rallies and even took him on an anti-immigrant trip to the border with Mexico to teach him how to keep Mexicans out of the United States.
Prior to his trial, police videotaped the boy’s confession, in which he admitted to killing his father as he slept on the family’s couch. The boy said he used the family’s firearm, which was stored in an unlocked compartment.
The prosecution is trying to prove the boy’s actions were premeditated, citing testimony from the boy’s younger sister, who claims the boy told her about his plans to murder their father four days before the shooting occurred. It also contends that the boy acted in an effort to prevent his father from leaving his stepmother.
However, the defense argues that the boy’s stepmother played a critical role in the shooting. It contends that the stepmother manipulated her stepson into shooting her husband because she did not want her husband to leave her for another woman. She originally claimed to be responsible for the shooting in an effort to protect her stepson, and has since pleaded guilty to child endangerment and weapons violations.
If convicted, the boy will go to jail until he is 23. This sad case, where there is evidence of abuse and violence in the home, is only one example of a rare yet disturbing crime: parricide.
Why children commit parricide
Parricides account for just one percent of all homicides in the United States every year. One study of matricides, or the murders of mothers, between 1976 and 2007 found that the majority of this type of homicides are overwhelmingly committed by adult children, with only 16 percent of matricides committed by children under 18.
A variety of factors contribute to a child taking the life of his or her mother or father. Abuse and neglect of the child often play a role in a child’s decision to kill a parent, as does the presence of violence, substance abuse or a firearm in the home.
Predicting which juveniles will commit parricide is difficult because incidents are so rare. However, experts have identified three different general groups of children that are frequently offenders: the severely mentally ill, the dangerously antisocial and the severely abused child.
Some children who suffer from severe mental illnesses, like psychosis, and may suffer from hallucinations or delusions that lead them to kill their mother or father. A dangerously antisocial child, who is likely to meet the criteria for an Antisocial Personality Disorder diagnosis, may kill a parent because he or she is an obstacle blocking one of the child’s goals, including obtaining an inheritance or participating in social activities like dating.
Lastly, children who are severely abused may also commit parricide. In these tragic cases, children see killing one or both of their parents as a way to end the abuse. Many severely abused children who commit parricide could be diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, a disabling condition. It is in this last category – the severely abused child – that the defense claims the Riverside boy fits.
When children are accused of murdering a parent, there are often factors beyond the child’s control that contribute to the incident. If a young loved one of yours has been accused of parricide, contact an experienced criminal defense lawyer.