John Henry Spooner, 76, right, confers with his defense attorney Monday, July 15, 2013, during a break in jury selection for his trial on charges that he fatally shot a black teen last year whom he suspected of breaking into his Milwaukee home and stealing weapons. The case has drawn comparisons to the trial of George Zimmerman, who was acquitted two days earlier of killing Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Fla., last year. (AP Photo/Dinesh Ramde)
Tuesday, July 16, 2013 10:15 pm
Video shows Milwaukee man, 76, shooting teen
By DINESH RAMDEAssociated Press
The wounded teen flees away from the cameras' view and collapses in the street where his mother, according to her testimony, held him as he took his last breath.
The video was shown in court Tuesday as evidence in the trial of John Henry Spooner, who's accused of gunning down Darius Simmons in May 2012 after accusing the teen of breaking into his home and stealing guns. Spooner, 76, is charged with first-degree intentional homicide.
In the surveillance footage, Spooner emerges from his house that morning and confronts Simmons. He points a gun at the boy, who quickly moves backward a few steps. Both Spooner and the teen direct their attention toward a porch at Simmons' home, where Simmons' mother is standing. Moments later, Spooner points the gun back at Simmons and fires, hitting him in the chest.
As the teen stumbles and runs away, Spooner fires a second shot that misses him.
Simmons' mother, Patricia Larry, testified that Spooner warned her to call 911 and accused her son of burglarizing his home. She said Spooner told her son he'd teach him not to steal, then fired the shot that struck the boy in his chest.
Larry ran after her son. When she caught up to where the boy had collapsed on the ground, she could only feel a light pulse in his neck.
"Then I pulled his shirt up and I (saw) he had a bullet hole in his chest," she testified tearfully. "He took one more breath and that's it."
The defense has conceded that Spooner fired the fatal bullet at Simmons as they argued on the sidewalk. But defense attorney Franklyn Gimbel said the two issues for the jury to decide are whether Spooner intended to kill the boy, and whether Spooner was suffering from mental illness that prevented him from knowing right from wrong at the time.
Richard Martinez, one of the Milwaukee police officers who responded after the shooting, testified that Spooner offered an unsolicited confession upon his arrest. Martinez said he ordered Spooner at gunpoint to drop his weapon and Spooner bent down and laid his handgun on the ground.
Martinez testified that he was handcuffing Spooner when Spooner said, "Yeah, I shot him," referring to the teen. Martinez said Spooner had another bullet in his pocket.
Martinez's partner, Michael Urbaniak, testified that he and Martinez placed Spooner in the back of a squad car while they investigated the scene. While being detained, Spooner commented that he had reached his breaking point and that his house had been broken into two days earlier, Urbaniak said.
The officer said Spooner claimed he knew the culprits were the kids who lived next door, and that they were part of a black family that recently moved next door and had caused nothing but trouble. Spooner is white.
Prosecutors showed a video of police interrogating Spooner, in which he acknowledges shooting Simmons and said he did it because he wanted his guns back. He noted that he'd been burglarized on multiple occasions.
Larry, who has sat in the front row of the courtroom since the trial related to her son's death began Monday, refused to watch the surveillance video. She stared straight ahead with moist eyes. Three jurors watched the video with their hands over their mouths.
Other police officers who testified included Lori Borchert, who responded to the burglary report two days earlier. She said two windows on Spooner's home were broken and Spooner told her four shotguns were missing.
The day after the burglary, Spooner called Borchert and told her that his surveillance video captured images of the suspects. She said she viewed the video and that it showed two different black teenage males coming from the area of Simmons' home and moving toward Spooner's home.
She said she didn't arrest anyone because there wasn't enough probable cause. She said the faces on the video weren't clear, and the teens didn't appear to be holding any of the missing guns.
Gimbel, who limited his cross-examinations, told jurors during opening statements he intends to raise questions about whether Spooner actually had the requisite intent to commit homicide.
"We will focus on what was Mr. Spooner's intent when he pointed the gun and pulled the trigger," Gimbel said.
Dinesh Ramde can be reached at dramde(at)ap.org.