Wis. Man, 76, Guilty in Fatal Shooting of Teen, Darius Simmons

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  • MILWAUKEE (AP) — A Milwaukee man was convicted Wednesday of fatally shooting his 13-year-old neighbor whom he suspected had broken into his home and stolen weapons. The trial now shifts into a second phase in which the defense will try to prove the 76-year-old defendant was mentally ill at the time of the shooting.

    A jury deliberated for about an hour before finding John Henry Spooner guilty of first-degree intentional homicide. Surveillance video from Spooner’s own security cameras showed him confronting Darius Simmons in May 2012, pointing a gun at him from about 6 feet away and shooting him in the chest.

    Spooner had entered two pleas to the homicide charge: not guilty and not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect. That set up the trial to be conducted in two phases: the first to determine whether he was guilty of the homicide, and if so, a second to determine whether he was mentally competent at the time.

    Spooner’s defense attorney, Franklyn Gimbel, said he has an expert who will testify that Spooner was suffering from mental disease that prevented him from knowing right from wrong.

    Gimbel conceded from the outset that his client shot Darius. However, he argued that Spooner did not intend for the gunshot to be fatal.

    “There was no mental investment in what he was doing,” Gimbel said.

    The second phase of the trial operates under slightly different rules. The burden of proof shifts to the defense, which only has to prove “clear and convincing evidence,” instead of the stricter standard of “beyond a reasonable doubt.” In addition, a verdict requires agreement from only 10 jurors, not unanimity from all 12.

    Spooner’s surveillance video provides a clear view of what happened. Spooner emerges from his house and confronts the teen, who is retrieving his family’s garbage cart from the street. Spooner points a gun at Darius, who quickly moves back a few steps. Spooner then exchanges words with Darius’ mother, who’s standing on her porch out of view of the camera, and Spooner briefly points the gun in her direction. Moments later, Spooner points the gun back at the boy standing a couple of feet in front of him. He fires, hitting Darius in the chest.

    The teen stumbles and runs away, and Spooner fires a second shot that misses. He appears to attempt a third shot but the gun jams.

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