Against the wishes of counsel, 76-year-old John Spooner took the stand Thursday afternoon during a trial to decide whether he was mentally ill when he shot and killed 13-year-old Darius Simmons in May 2012.
Spooner was convicted Wednesday of first-degree intentional homicide. Phase two of the trial commenced after Wednesday’s verdict, and the jury will now have to decide Spooner’s mental capacity at the time of the shooting.
Spooner’s decision to testify left defense attorney Frank Gimbel – who made it clear that his client was testifying against his advice – with little option other than to guide his client through questions that would show his mental state at the time of the shooting.
According to his testimony Thursday, Spooner believed Simmons was responsible for a burglary and theft of some guns from his home, though there was no evidence to tie Simmons to those incidents.
Gimbel walked Spooner through the events that led up to the shooting, and what was going through Spooner’s mind when he shot the teen.
Spooner was unreserved in his comments, saying he wouldn’t call the shooting revenge, but rather “justice.”
He was, at times, combative, hard to understand and rambling. Judge Jeffrey Wagner had to remind the defendant to stop talking and to have him answer the next question.
On cross-examination by prosecutor Mark Williams, Simmons made several statements that caused those in the viewing area to gasp, including that he felt “not that bad” about killing Simmons.
“Are you getting angry, Mr. Spooner?” Williams asked.
“Yes,” Spooner answered.
“Is this how you got angry when you shot the boy?” the prosecutor continued, to which Spooner replied, “No, I got angrier.”
The testimony was just the latest in a trial day filled with unexpected turns.
On Thursday morning, Spooner told Wagner he wanted to make a statement, at which point his lawyers quickly huddled with him, first in court and later in a back room until they realized their conversation was audible in court.
About 15 minutes later, Gimbel told the judge Spooner wasn’t competent to continue. He said Spooner seemed unable to comprehend his lawyers’ advice.
“He said things that in my view are suggestive that, at the present time, he is incapable of understanding the nature of the proceedings,” Gimbel said.
The trial was halted while Spooner was reevaluated by psychiatrist John Pankiewicz, who reported Spooner did not show signs of a mental illness that would impair his understanding of the proceedings.
The Associated Press also contributed to this report.