Wis. man, 75, pleads not guilty in slain teen case

A 75-year-old Milwaukee man was ordered to stand trial and pleaded not guilty Monday in the fatal shooting of his 13-year-old neighbor.

John Henry Spooner, who is charged with first-degree intentional homicide in the May 31 killing of Darius Simmons, waived his right for a preliminary hearing.

The white-haired Spooner, wearing black-rimmed glasses and an orange jail jumpsuit, said little during Monday's 2-minute hearing.

Authorities say that on the day Darius was shot, Spooner confronted the teen outside their homes and accused him of taking part in a recent break-in at his house. Spooner said several of his possessions — including shotguns — had been stolen and he demanded that Darius return them. Darius, whose family had only moved in next door a month earlier, said he didn't have Spooner's property. At this point, authorities say, Spooner shot the teenager in the chest, in full view of Darius' mother, Patricia Larry.

Witnesses said Spooner then paced up and down the sidewalk until the police arrived. A criminal complaint says Spooner admitted to the arresting office that he had shot the teen.

Spooner's attorney, Frank Gimbel, said his client had not been not in a position to confess to any charges.

"When a lay person says they are guilty of a crime they really are not speaking with an understanding of what the particulars of the crimes that are charged are and, in this case, first-degree intentional homicide requires some very specific ingredients to be a conviction," he said. "They are not in this case, as far as I'm concerned."

The judge set a scheduling conference for June 20.

Before the proceedings began, Spooner could be heard chatting with Gimbel about his health in full view of the gallery where Larry and other members of Simmons' family sat.

Tavis Grant, national field director for Jesse Jackson's Rainbow PUSH Coalition, told reporters that the family was planning to pursue federal hate crimes charges against Spooner. Darius was black and Spooner is white.

The Department of Justice and the District Attorney's office did not immediately respond to calls and emails Monday seeking comment on the possibility of federal charges in the case.

"His color, his race, his ethnicity is enough," Grant said, adding that Spooner's behavior in court was inappropriate.

"You would think that someone (who is) 75 years old, who has lost a wife, has gone through cancer, would show some remorse, show some regret, show some disappointment, show some sign for the loss of this mother," he said.

The day Darius was shot and killed, police grilled his mother for two hours and left the family's house in disarray after scouring it in vain for the shotguns. They also arrested one of Darius' brothers for a year-old truancy violation. Mayor Tom Barrett has promised an investigation into how police treated Larry.

Simmons was buried on Saturday after a funeral attended by many public officials, including Barrett.