This combination of file photo shows Particia Larry, right, on June 2, 2012, in MIlwaukee, holding a picture of her son son Darius Simmons, and John Henry Spooner, left, in a photo provided by the Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Department. (AP Photos/File, Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Dept./AP, File)
MILWAUKEE (AP) — A 76-year-old Milwaukee man who said he was seeking justice when he shot and killed his teen neighbor after accusing the boy of burglary was sentenced Monday to life in prison with no chance of parole.
John H. Spooner, who was convicted last week of first-degree intentional homicide, acknowledged shooting 13-year-old Darius Simmons in the chest last year while the teen’s mother watched.
The conviction carried a mandatory sentence of life in prison, although Judge Jeffrey Wagner had the option to allow for the possibility of parole. He rejected that option, meaning Spooner — who has lung cancer and other physical ailments — will die in prison.
Some of Spooner’s shotguns were stolen in a break-in at his home in May 2012, and he told the jury he suspected Darius as the thief. Footage from Spooner’s own surveillance cameras two days later showed him confronting Darius on the sidewalk, pointing a gun at the boy’s chest and firing from a few feet away. Darius turned and fled, and then collapsed and died in the street moments later as his mother cradled him in her arms.
Police searched the boy’s home later that day and didn’t find the weapons.
Darius’ mother, Patricia Larry, has a wrongful-death lawsuit pending against Spooner. After jurors rejected Spooner’s insanity plea on Friday she told reporters “justice was served.”
Spooner never denied shooting the boy. He testified, against his attorney’s advice, that he killed Darius because he really wanted his guns back. He also acknowledged wanting to kill the teen’s brother when the older boy ran to Darius’ aid as he lay dying in the street. But Spooner said he didn’t shoot the brother because he didn’t want to hit any of the others who had gathered around.
When prosecutor Mark Williams suggested Spooner killed Darius for revenge, Spooner replied, “I wouldn’t call it revenge. I would call it justice.”
Defense attorney Franklyn Gimbel conceded from the outset of the one-week trial that Spooner killed the boy. He argued that the homicide might have been reckless but not intentional, because Spooner didn’t mean for the shot to be fatal. The jury deliberated for about an hour before rejecting that argument.
That verdict set the stage for a second phase of the trial to determine whether he was mentally competent at the time. A doctor retained by the defense testified that Spooner had anger issues that caused him to periodically detach from reality. Williams argued that Spooner just had anger issues and aggressive impulses.
Dinesh Ramde can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.