The Milwaukee man who shot and killed his 13-year-old neighbor after accusing the teen of breaking into his home and stealing his guns was convicted Wednesday in the teen’s death.
The jury, who deliberated for about an hour before finding John Henry Spooner guilty of first-degree intentional homicide, will now decide whether or not the 76-year-old was mentally ill when he murdered Darius Simmons.
Surveillance video from Spooner’s own security cameras showed him confronting Simmons on a sidewalk outside their homes in May 2012. Spooner waved a gun at the boy and fired directly into his chest from just a few feet away.
Clutching his chest, Simmons ran down the street, where his mother Patricia Larry, according to her sworn testimony, held him as he took his last breath. The shocking video footage was shown in court Tuesday as evidence.
According to the Associated Press, because he entered two pleas to his homicide charge — not guilty and guilty by reason of mental disease or defect — John Henry Spooner’s trial was setup to be conducted in two phases: the first to find out whether he was guilty of the homicide (check) and the second to determine whether he was mentally competent at the time of the shooting.
With the first phase complete, the second began with testimony from a psychiatrist hired by the defense. Dr. Basil Jackson said his examination of Spooner revealed a man with anger issues who periodically dissociated from reality.
Spooner’s daughter once brought home a kitten that he didn’t want so he took it into the basement and killed it, Jackson said. Spooner also used to choke and beat his late wife, the doctor testified.
The violence shows Spooner occasionally loses the ability to control his anger – as during the moments that he shot Darius, Jackson said.
“There was an eruption, a loss of control. And at that moment he was not able – at that moment – to make a judgment,” Jackson said. “It’s like he was on autopilot.”
During closing arguments, Spooner’s defense attorney Franklyn Gimbel didn’t deny that his client shot Darius Simmons. Instead, his argument is that Spooner didn’t mean for the gunshot to be fatal.
“This is not a case of whodunit,” Gimbel said. “It’s not a question of whether the behaviors of John Spooner caused the death of the young man – but what motivated it and what went on in his mind at the time is the crucial question.”
That’s probably what prosecutor Mark Williams said to himself when he heard that crock of bullshit.
Out loud though, Williams said that it’s impossible to watch the video without realizing that Spooner knew exactly what the hell he was doing, pointing out that Spooner not only walked out of his home and CONFRONTED Darius, but also aimed a gun at him and deliberately pulled the trigger.
“How is that not intent to kill?” he asked. “You can see the intent. Look at him (Darius) holding his chest. Look how close they are together. It’s point-blank range. Darius runs away and he shoots again.”
Larry’s attorney, Jonathan Safran, said the family was pleased with the verdict. “She’s cautiously optimistic as we move into this second phase of the trial,” he said.
During the second phase of the trial, the burden of proof will shift to the defense, which only has to prove “clear and convincing evidence,” rather than the stricter standard of “beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Additionally, a verdict requires agreement from only 10 juries, instead of unanimity from all 12.