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Defense wrestles with evidence in Spooner guilty verdict (UPDATE)

John Henry Spooner, 76, right, confers with his defense attorney Monday, July 15, 2013, during a break in jury selection for his trial on charges that he fatally shot a black teen last year whom he suspected of breaking into his Milwaukee home and stealing weapons. The case has drawn comparisons to the trial of George Zimmerman, who was acquitted two days earlier of killing Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Fla., last year. (AP Photo/Dinesh Ramde)

John Henry Spooner, 76, confers with his defense attorney, Frank Gimbel, on Monday during a break in jury selection for Spooner’s trial on charges that he fatally shot a black teen last year. (AP Photo/Dinesh Ramde)

In defending a 76-year-old man seen shooting and killing a teenager in footage from his own surveillance camera, defense attorney Frank Gimbel said he had no choice but to concede that his client was guilty of homicide.

Gimbel, a partner at Gimbel, Reilly, Guerin & Brown LLC, said in a brief interview Wednesday that it would come off as disingenuous if he said that his client, John Spooner, was not the man who gunned down 13-year-old Darius Simmons.

Spooner was convicted of first-degree intentional homicide Wednesday afternoon by a 12-member Milwaukee County jury. Gimbel had argued for a lesser conviction of reckless homicide and said it was never Spooner’s intent to kill the teen.

“I think that … you have to have the jury believe that you are honest with them,” Gimbel said. “And I would be dishonest if I said that there was really a basis to acquit Spooner of anything and everything.”

According to testimony, Spooner accused Simmons of burglarizing his house and stealing weapons, though there never was any evidence to tie Simmons to the burglary.

Jurors will soon consider evidence to decide whether Spooner was mentally ill when he fired a single round into Simmons’ chest.

During the trial, Gimbel did his best to soften the blow and argue for a reckless homicide conviction. Gimbel said during his closing arguments that Spooner didn’t have any “mental investment” in the killing.

“There is, I suggest to you … evidence that reflects upon what was going on between the ears of John Spooner when he engaged in the behavior that caused the death of Darius Simmons,” Gimbel told the jury.

“Within hours of that activity, after he docilely surrendered his weapon to police, he acknowledged that he shot a person,” Gimbel continued. “He says that ‘I guess I used a gun to shoot a 13-year-old boy.’

In a brief interview following closing arguments, he said it is incredibly rare for him to argue for a lesser verdict, instead of an acquittal.

“The video was horrifically damning,” Gimbel said. “It’s almost like a fictionalized version of this case, which was captured with directors, producers and a camera.”

Prosecutor Mark Williams did his best to refute Gimbel’s claims during his closing arguments.

He said the video, which showed Spooner going into his house and retrieving his gun before pointing it at Simmons and shooting the teen, clearly showed Spooner’s intentions.

“Why don’t you just go out there and say ‘I want my stuff back?’’’ Williams told the jury. “There was not just a gun. It was a loaded gun.”

Gimbel said he could only remember one other homicide case where he argued for something other than an acquittal. This time, though, he said arguing Spooner was not the shooter would come off as disingenuous to the jury.

Daniel Blinka, a criminal law professor at Marquette University, said Gimbel’s strategy in this trial so far has been a sound one.

With the surveillance footage, it wouldn’t be wise “to argue the cops got the wrong guy,” Blinka said. Instead, he said it is best to try to lay the groundwork in the first part of the trial to show Spooner’s mental illness at the time of the shooting.

“The best you’re going to do is argue the state-of-mind defense,” Blinka said.

Gimbel said he has an expert who will testify that Spooner was suffering from mental disease at the time of the shooting that prevented him from knowing right from wrong.

The Associated Press also contributed to this report.


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