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76-year-old man to stand trial in shooting death of 13-year-old boy

Dylan Stableford, Yahoo News
Yahoo! News

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John Henry Spooner, left; Patricia Larry, right, holds a photo of her slain son, Darius Simmons (AP)

In a case that bears some striking similarities to George Zimmerman's, a 76-year-old Milwaukee man is set to stand trial this week in the 2012 shooting death a 13-year-old boy he had accused of stealing from him.

Police say John Henry Spooner confronted Darius Simmons, who lived next door with his mother, as the teen took out the trash. Spooner, who is white, had suspected that Simmons, who was black, stole $3,000 worth of shotguns from him, and demanded that the sixth-grader return them. Simmons denied stealing the guns, and his mother, Patricia Larry, told Spooner to go back inside.

Instead, prosecutors say, Spooner pulled out a handgun and shot the 13-year-old in the chest from near-point blank range.

"When police arrived, Spooner was still on the sidewalk, holding the gun," according to the criminal complaint. "When told to drop the weapon, he placed it on the ground and told police, 'Yeah, I shot him.'"

An autopsy showed that Simmons, who was unarmed, suffered a gunshot wound to his torso, according to the Associated Press. Spooner was charged with first degree murder. He pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity.

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett condemned the killing. "To have a boy who's taking out the garbage at 10:30 in the morning murdered should shock the conscience of the state," Barrett said at the time.

Just hours before the shooting, Spooner told a local politician he was frustrated police had not arrested the boy in the alleged burglary, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, and hinted he might take the law into his own hands.

"There are other ways to deal with situations," Alderman Bob Donovan recalled Spooner saying.

Spooner's apparent reference to vigilantism drew comparisons to Zimmerman's killing of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin after the former neighborhood watchman followed him through a Sanford, Fla., housing complex. Zimmerman was acquitted of all charges on Saturday.

Last year, the Rev. Jesse Jackson's Rainbow PUSH Coalition called for Spooner to be charged with a federal hate crime. On Monday, an attorney representing Simmons' family said there's a clear "issue of profiling" and a "race component" to the case. But Spooner has denied race was a factor in the shooting.

The trial was supposed to begin in January but was delayed due to concerns about Spooner's health.

His defense attorney, Franklyn Gimbel, said Spooner has been suffering from pneumonia.

Jury selection was completed Monday.

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