Henry Spooner, 76, told police last year that "they are going to throw
the book at (him)" for shooting Darius Simmons, he was right.
Spooner was sentenced Monday to life in prison without the
possibility of parole, a punishment Milwaukee County Circuit Judge
Jeffrey A. Wagner said fit the "horrific, egregious act" of killing a
"There should never be any light in the tunnel for you," Wagner said
to nods in the courtroom gallery, filled to near-capacity Monday
afternoon. "This is one of the worst of the worst."
The judge also ordered Spooner to pay $58,551 in restitution to the Simmons family.
Spooner appeared in an orange jumpsuit for the first time Monday, his
prison apparel replacing the short-sleeved, checkered shirt he had
donned during his trial last week. As Wagner told him he would spend the
rest of his life behind bars, Spooner gazed back impassively.
Spooner's sentencing hearing followed a weeklong trial split into two phases — a guilt phase and an insanity phase. A jury found Spooner guilty of first-degree intentional homicide in Simmons' death on Wednesday and, two days later, deemed him criminally responsible for
his actions, rejecting Spooner's insanity defense in less than 15
minutes of deliberation. Spooner took the witness stand Thursday against
the advice of his lawyer and told a stunned courtroom that he considered Simmons' death "justice."
Simmons was retrieving a garbage can from the curb when Spooner
gunned him down, demanding the teenager return four shotguns he believed
Simmons had taken from his home two days earlier. When Simmons said he
did not have the guns — and when his mother, Patricia Larry, threatened
to call the police from the front porch — Spooner shot the teenager in
the chest. He fired a second shot that missed, and attempted a third,
but his gun jammed.
Police searched the victim's home after the incident and found none of the missing guns.
Spooner addressed the court again Monday during his sentencing
hearing, reiterating his exasperation over the stolen guns and dwelling
on the perplexity of videos retrieved from his surveillance cameras
successfully capturing his confrontation with Simmons but failing to
show who had broken into his home two days earlier.
He said he didn't know if what he did was right or wrong.
"I feel sorry for Darius. He had nobody who loved him enough to teach
him to go straight," Spooner said, eliciting an expletive from Simmons'
older brother, Theodore Larry.
Spooner alleged during his trial that Simmons' mother directed the
burglary, telling her children to rob a "sick, old man," he said.
"May God forgive you, Ms. Larry, for your lying and cheating and
stealing," Spooner said. "I don't know if I did right or wrong. The jury
didn't tell me. Nobody told me."
Wagner tried to remove any doubt in Spooner's mind, telling him, "You did wrong. You took the life of a child."
"It was an evil act," Wagner added. "That family is left without the
love of their child. (Simmons) will never be able to experience
childhood, to go through high school ...to go to college, to get
married, to have children. You took that all away from him."
Though bound by a mandatory life sentence, the court had the option
of permitting the consideration of Spooner's release with extended
supervision after a minimum 20 years in prison, Assistant District
Attorney Mark Williams said before the sentencing.
Williams asked Wagner to impose the maximum sentence and to deny Spooner the chance of ever leaving jail.
"He's going to die in prison with murderers and rapists, and that's
the choice he made," Williams said. "He believed what he did was right,
and that's what makes him so dangerous."
Larry, on the other hand, said Monday she would pray for Spooner, that she has "no hate for this man."
Still, she said she wants Spooner "to be held accountable for what he
did to (her) son Darius Simmons" and asked Wagner to sentence him to
life in prison.
"He is a menace to society," Larry said. "No mother should have to go through this."
Larry read only a brief, prewritten statement and declined to comment
after the sentencing. Simmons' brother and the family pastor, Steve
Jerbi, also made statements asking for a life sentence.
"My brother lost his life over something he didn't do," Larry said. "(Spooner) should be in jail for the rest of his life."
A maximum sentence
Defense attorney Franklyn Gimbel said the court's decision about
parole eligibility was inconsequential, calling the prospect of Spooner
living for another 20 years "totally improbable." Afflicted by cancer,
heart disease and recurring bouts of pneumonia over the years, his
client does not have long to live, Gimbel said.
Yet because his conviction marked Spooner's first contact with the
criminal justice system, Gimbel asked the court to leave open the
possibility that Spooner be considered for release after 20 years,
albeit as an "academic exercise," Gimbel said.
"Prior to the day of May 31, 2012, John Spooner was an average
working human being," Gimbel said. His four adult children did not
attend the trial because they do not "endorse their father's conduct,"
Gimbel said, but "they love their father."
Wagner said the severe sentence would deter others.
"If someone else hears about this case or reads about it, they will
know that offenses like this ...and the lack of remorse and repentance
call for a maximum sentence," Wagner added.
He also denied Gimbel's request to provide Spooner with protective
custody, a precaution Gimbel said was necessary "because of the racial
undertones that have been raised about his behavior underlying the