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Dinesh Ramde Associated Press
Published: 05 June 2012

75-year-old John Henry Spooner faces first degree intentional murder charges in the
killing of 13-year-old Darius Simmons

MILWAUKEE (AP) -- Family and friends of a slain 13-year-old boy gathered Saturday on the sidewalk where he was gunned down in front of his mother, where they talked about the cheerful sixth-grader and vented their anger at the 75-year-old neighbor charged in the attack.

Betty McCuiston, Darius Simmons' aunt, remembered her nephew as a good kid who liked to laugh and play basketball.

``He was just a funny guy,'' she said, her eyes welling with tears.

She spoke at a news conference on behalf of Darius' mother, Patricia Larry, who sobbed behind her in silence as relatives squeezed her and wiped away her tears.

Prosecutors say Darius was moving a garbage cart in front of his home Thursday when his next-door neighbor, John Henry Spooner, confronted him and demanded that he return items that had recently been stolen from Spooner's home. When Darius denied stealing anything, Spooner shot him in the chest from 5 feet away as the teen's mother watched, the criminal complaint said.

``He had his hands up when he got shot,'' McCuiston said. ``She (the mother) checked for a pulse and said she couldn't get one.''

After the shooting, Spooner paced up and down the sidewalk until police arrived and arrested him without incident, witnesses said.

McCuiston said the teen was completely innocent in the theft, and that he'd been in school at the time Spooner was robbed a few days earlier.

About an hour before the shooting, Spooner was eating breakfast with Milwaukee Alderman Bob Donovan. Spooner told the alderman he suspected his neighbor in a recent theft, and that he was upset that police were doing nothing.

As the pair parted company, Spooner commented that there were other ways of dealing with these problems, Donovan recalled.

``At the time I didn't make much of it. You know, it was part of a half-hour conversation,'' Donovan said. ``But in retrospect you begin to wonder.''

Spooner also has lung cancer and has been lonely since his wife died in 2004, he previously told Donovan.

Spooner made an initial court appearance Saturday morning on a charge of first-degree intentional homicide. A judge set cash bond of $300,000, according to online court records.

Spooner was represented by public defender John C. Moore, who did not immediately return a message Saturday.

Leon Larry, the victim's uncle, said he believed Spooner shot Darius not because he thought Darius was the thief but because he happened to come across the teen during a moment of extreme anger.

When asked what message he had for the alleged shooter, Larry struggled to find the right words. Finally he burst out in anger.

``He took the easy way out. He's 75 years old, you know what I'm saying?'' he shouted. ``They give him life in prison, (but) he'll die in 6 months. Darius is only 13. We'll never know how long he was going to live. Some cases, you know, justice is not enough. And this is one.''

The family only lived next to Spooner for a month. Community activist Juan Carlos Ruiz said the family that had lived in the house before them had been ``troublesome.''

Ruiz said the suspect was a churchgoer who was respected in the neighborhood. He also said Spooner had been robbed twice and police told him there was nothing they could do.

``What drove this man to take the law into his own hands?'' he asked. ``How much (have) we as a community failed, to let this happen?''

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that police seized 16 guns from Spooner's house in 2006 because a felon had been a guest at his home. A judge ordered the guns _ eight rifles, four shotguns and four handguns _ returned five months later.

Toni Clark, Darius' sixth-grade teacher, remembered the teen as an outspoken joker who once threw a football across the playground to show off to her that he could be a professional football player.

She also said that even though it took him 40 minutes to ride his bike to school each way, Darius was never late.

``If that's not a child that's driven and concerned about his education and his life, I don't know who is,'' she said.

The family set up a fund for assistance with funeral expenses. Donations to the Darius Simmons Memorial Fund can be made at any Tri City National Bank branch.

At Saturday's news conference, as community activists spoke of the need to get guns out of neighborhoods and seek solutions to community violence, Darius' mother said nothing. Patricia Larry cried quietly, held onto relatives or looked at the ground, several steps from the sidewalk in front of her home where she had watched her young man die.

She's not going to forget that she saw her son gunned down in front of her,'' McCuiston said, shaking her head. ``She's not going to forget that as long as she lives.''


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