A 76-year-old Wisconsin man on trial for the fatal shooting of his 13-year-old neighbor shocked a courtroom on Thursday when he said he would have shot the boy’s brother, too, if his gun had not jammed.
“I wouldn’t call it revenge; I would call it justice,” said John Henry Spooner, who was convicted of first-degree intentional homicide this week for the May 2012 shooting of Darius Simmons.
The case has drawn comparisons to the Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman case. Spooner, the white defendant, shot the black teen after Simmons and his brother Theodore Larry, 18, allegedly burglarized his home. Two days later, Spooner loaded his shotgun and went to confront Simmons, who was wheeling a garbage can from the sidewalk back up to his home.
“Something snapped,” Spooner told the court Thursday. Spooner pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity.
Spooner accused the teen of stealing four of his shotguns from his house. Simmons denied he took the guns. Then Spooner shot him in the torso while Simmons was unarmed. When police arrived on the scene, Spooner was pacing back and forth. He was arrested without incident.
“I wanted those shotguns back," Spooner said in court. "They were a big part of my life. If what I did was in cold blood, what do you think about these kids robbing a sick, old man?"
After the shooting, police searched the Simmons’ house and didn't find any of Spooner’s missing guns.
Psychiatrist John Pankiewicz testified that Spooner "did not lack substantial mental capacity to understand the charges against him or to assist in his own defense."
Spooner then chose to testify.
When he was cross-examined by Assistant District Attorney Mark Williams, Spooner was asked if he felt bad for shooting the teen.
“Not that bad,” Spooner replied.
Sentencing is expected to occur on Friday. He could face life in prison or a mental institution.
"The jury will look at his conduct before, during and after the shooting to see if he meets that second standard, even if they do decide he had a mental disorder," said Janine Geske, a Marquette University law professor and former state Supreme Court justice. "The defendant's behavior has to demonstrate that he's clearly out of control."
Defense attorney Franklyn Gimbel said the Trayvon Martin case had no effect Spooner’s case.
“I am concerned to the extent that the jury blends in the details of what that outcome might have been,” Gimbel said. “Otherwise it should have no bearing.”