John H. Spooner is escorted into court on Monday, June 11, 2012, for a hearing at the Criminal Justice Facility in Milwaukee.
Jury selection began Monday in the case of a 76-year-old white man charged with gunning down a 13-year-old black boy last year on a Milwaukee sidewalk over a theft allegation.
Spooner suspected Simmons of breaking into his Milwaukee home and stealing guns, prosecutors said. Spooner confronted the teen on the sidewalk two days after the weapons came up missing and demanded that he return them. When Simmons denied stealing anything, Spooner shot him in the chest from five feet away as the teen's mother watched, according to the criminal complaint.
Spooner then fired a second shot as Simmons tried to run away, the complaint said. Police recovered a weapon and two spent bullet casings.
Spooner's defense attorney, Franklyn Gimbel, conceded that Spooner shot Simmons but said he would argue that he didn't intend to kill the boy. Gimbel also said he had an expert who would testify that Spooner had a mental illness at the time of shooting that prevented him from knowing right from wrong.
The morning of the shooting, Spooner and Milwaukee Alderman Bob Donovan ate breakfast together. Donovan said Spooner told him he had lost $3,000 worth of shotguns in a burglary that week and was frustrated with police. He also told Donovan that he was dying of lung cancer, Donovan said.
Police had forced the teen's grieving mother, Patricia Larry, to sit in a squad car for more than an hour rather than let her hold her dying son or join him at the hospital. Officers also searched the mother's home for the allegedly stolen firearms, which were not found, and they arrested another one of her sons on a year-old truancy violation.
Milwaukee Police Chief Edward Flynn defended his officers' actions, saying investigators only get one chance to collect evidence and interview witnesses at the scene. He said that means keeping witnesses apart to prevent them from talking, even family members who are mourning and want to be together.
In this case, Simmons' mother was a primary witness, Flynn said. "I wish it had been the mailman," the chief said. "But it wasn't. It was the mom."