The 76-year-old white Milwaukee man who shot and killed his 13-year-old African-American neighbor in front of the boy’s mother was sentenced to life in prison today by a judge in Wisconsin. John H. Spooner shot Darius Simmons because he allegedly thought the boy had stolen his guns.
The case, which drew national attention because of its similarities to George Zimmerman’s murder of Trayvon Martin, had a very different ending than the Zimmerman trial, in which he was acquitted of killing 17-year-old Martin.
Spooner was convicted last week of first-degree intentional homicide and sentenced to life with no chance of parole by Judge Jeffrey Wagner. Since Spooner has lung cancer and other ailments, he will likely die in prison.
Because the trial occurred just after a jury acquitted Zimmerman, the judge polled the prospective jurors to make sure they could separate the cases. “You understand the facts aren’t the same,” Wagner asked those in the jury pool. “It’s a whole different case.” The prospective jurors nodded their understanding.
Spooner was charged with first-degree intentional homicide in the May 2012 death of Simmons, who was his next-door neighbor. He suspected Simmons of breaking into his Milwaukee home and stealing guns, according to prosecutors, so he confronted the teen on the sidewalk two days after the weapons came up missing and demanded that he return them.
Simmons denied stealing anything from him, so Spooner shot him in the chest from five feet away—right in front of the teen’s mother.
Spooner didn’t stop there—he fired a second shot as Simmons tried to run away, according to the criminal complaint. At the scene, police recovered a weapon and two spent bullet casings. The autopsy revealed that Simmons suffered a gunshot wound to his torso and the bullet exited his back.
Police said they searched Simmons’ home and didn’t find Spooner’s weapons.
While Spooner’s defense attorney, Franklyn Gimbel, conceded that Spooner shot Simmons, the lawyer claimed that he didn’t intend to kill the boy. Gimbel said Spooner had a mental illness at the time of shooting that prevented him from knowing right from wrong.
Spooner had breakfast with Milwaukee Alderman Bob Donovan on the morning of the shooting and told him he had lost $3,000 worth of shotguns in a burglary that week and was frustrated with police. In addition, he told Donovan he was dying of lung cancer, according to the alderman.
The jury deliberated for roughly an hour before convicting Spooner.
Darius’ mother, Patricia Larry, says justice was served. She still has a wrongful-death lawsuit pending against Spooner.