Story for The UpTake by Tracey Pollock
John Spooner, the 76-year-old Milwaukee gun collector who shot and killed 13-year-old Darius Simmons in front of his mother last year, was sentenced Monday to life in prison with no chance of parole for the shocking murder — captured by a security video camera — by a judge who called the killing “an evil act.”
Spooner was convicted of first-degree murder by a Milwaukee jury last Wednesday in the May 31, 2012 killing; On Friday, the same jury found Spooner to be mentally competent for the crime, deciding that he was in his right mind and aware of the consequences of his act — a verdict that meant a mandatory life sentence for Spooner.
Judge Jeffrey Wagner imposed the mandatory sentence Monday, and also required Spooner to pay $58,551.25 in restitution to the victim’s family. The case — a mature white man shooting a black teen — stirred echoes of the Trayvon Martin case in Florida. But since Spooner admitted shooting the Milwaukee teen in order to “teach him a lesson,” most observers expected the guilty verdict that resulted from the first phase of last week’s trial. The surprise — in addition to the graphic video of the shooting — was that Spooner was found competent and not committed to a mental hospital. His callous testimony last Friday — he called the killing a “fair trade” for the guns he accused Darius of stealing (police found no evidence to support Spooner’s accusation) — may have made him seem like a stone-cold killer to the jury.
The jury deliberated less than 15 minutes before returning its judgment that Spooner was sane.
“The offense shocked the conscious of the community,” Judge Wagner said before sentencing Spooner to life in prison with no chance of parole. “There should be some type of responsibility, concern or repentance (but) you are a person without a conscience. There should never be any light in the tunnel for an individual like yourself because of the magnitude of your offense. This is one of the worst of the worst. It was an evil act — that family is left without the love of their child.”
Darius Simmons’ mother, brother and pastor also made statements to the court.
“I’m here for my son,” said the teen’s mother, Patricia Larry, fighting back tears. “He was killed over nothing.”
Larry said she would pray for Spooner, but that she wants him to “be held accountable for what he did to my son… He showed no remorse and said justice was served. He is a menace to society, and I want to say we need to put the guns down. No mother should have to go through this.”
Steve Jerbi, the victim’s pastor, said “Darius was a bright light in our congregation, in our community. His brothers and sisters, teachers — everyone who encountered him — knew he was a bright light with a bright future. Through the act of gun violence, (Spooner) mercilessly and senselessly killed a child.”
Assistant District Attorney Mark Williams said there was no other way to describe what happened other than that Spooner was an evil man.
“What is troubling to everyone here, all anyone really wants, is for Mr. Spooner to say, ‘I’m wrong and I’m sorry,” and he refuses to do it,” Williams said. “He believes in his mind what he did was right and that’s what makes him so dangerous. Darius had his whole life ahead of him, Mr. Spooner shot him at point-blank range, and for some reason he doesn’t understand how wrong and horrible it was. He should tell the victim’s mom that he was wrong and beg for forgiveness. That is all he can do at this point.”
Spooner, addressing the court, clung to his claim that he had been within his rights in confronting the teen, accusing him of robbing his home, then shooting Simmons in the chest as his horrified mother looked on.
Spooner said he “didn’t know if he did wrong or right, the jury never told me. I tried to teach the boy straight.” Darius’ family was visibly angered when Spooner added, “”I feel sorry for Darius. He had nobody who loved him enough to teach him to go straight.”
Spooner said he was the victim of burglary, never saying that he was sorry for shooting Darius. In his last few words, Spooner attacked Darius’ mother, saying, “May God forgive you for your lying and cheating and stealing.”
“Darius will never be able to experience childhood, not going through high school participating in academics, sports, having dinner with best friends, going to college, getting married, having children,” the judge told Spooner. “You took that all away from him.”