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Racially-Charged Trial Starts for Milwaukee Man Accused of Killing Young Neighbor

Update:  The mother of Darius Simmons, the 13-year-old victim of John Henry Spooner, testified at Spooner’s trial on Tuesday.Protests continued Monday in several U.S. cities, over the outcome of the George Zimmerman trial, as a case with similar undertones began in Milwaukee.

Zimmerman is the Florida neighborhood watch volunteer acquitted of killing 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.

In Milwaukee, a trial began in the shooting death of another unarmed, black teenager.  Seventy-six-year-old John H. Spooner of Milwaukee is charged with first-degree intentional homicide.

Prosecutors say he shot 13-year-old Darius Simmons last year, after suspecting the teen stole shotguns from Spooner’s home. The two were neighbors.

According to the criminal complaint, Spooner confronted the teenager on the sidewalk. When he denied taking anything, Spooner shot him in the chest. The 13-year-old ran a short distance, collapsed and died.

“I think the family is anxious to enter into this trial.”

That’s the Rev. Steve Jerbi. He’s pastor at All Peoples Church in Milwaukee and spoke on behalf of Simmons’ family.

“There’s really no question about what happened and the motivation, and so, they’re hoping that justice will be served and that at the end of the day, for all of us who knew Darius, no verdict will bring him back and so this is just one step in the healing process and just one part of the justice that they seek,” Jerbi says.

The boy’s mother, Patricia Larry, witnessed the shooting last May. She was in the courtroom Monday, but declined to be interviewed.

Pastor Jerbi called Darius Simmons an amazing young man.

“We have a community garden where youth from the neighborhood come and work and he loved the garden and loved it so much that he would bring his neighbors to come and work in the garden with us,” Jerbi says.

While activists and the media have drawn comparisons between the Milwaukee and Florida cases, Pastor Jerbi sees striking differences.

Wisconsin does not have a Stand Your Ground law. It allows people to defend themselves with force if they feel it will prevent great bodily harm or death.

We do have what’s called a Castle Doctrine. It legally protects homeowners who shoot intruders, but Jerbi says the law would not apply in this case because the shooting occurred in public.

Franklyn Gimbel is the attorney representing accused shooter John Spooner. Gimbel told Channel 4 that the 76 year old was not in his right mind when he killed the teenager.

“It’s a combination of a long-standing depression, and it manifested itself in a paranoia,” Gimbel says.

The defense is expected to argue Spooner is not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect. If he’s convicted, the senior citizen faces life in prison.

Community activist Khalil Coleman was in the courtroom Monday as the trial got underway. He’s with the group, Occupy the Hood Milwaukee. There may be differences in the two cases, but Coleman’s focused on the similarity – the victims.

“When I look around my community, the young men that I work with, the people who are becoming the Trayvon Martins across the country, I’m a reflection of that and I’m their voice,” Coleman says.

Coleman says he hopes the Milwaukee case brings justice for Darius Simmons and prompts the country stem gun violence.