Zimmerman verdict, race raised during Spooner trial jury selection

CREATED Jul. 15, 2013 - UPDATED: Jul. 15, 2013

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  • Tom Murray reports. Video by wtmj.com

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  • An elderly man will appear in court after being accused of killing his teenage neighbor. Video by wtmj.com

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  • The trial for a 76-year-old man accused of killing his 13-year-old neighbor starts Monday. Video by wtmj.com

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MILWAUKEE – The trial started Monday for an aging white man accused of confronting, shooting and killing his unarmed, black teenage neighbor. 

76-year-old John Spooner blamed Darius Simmons for breaking in and stealing guns.  Simmons did not have the weapons.  Charging documents say Spooner shot Simmons.

A pool of 40 potential jurors was narrowed to the 14 who will hear the case.  Two alternates will be removed from the process when both sides finish presenting their case.

There are ten men and four women on the jury. 

Controversy erupted late Monday over the racial makeup of the jury.  Prosecutor Mark Williams unsuccessfully argued there were not enough black people.  There were three in the pool and just one selected to serve on the jury; a black man.

Defense attorney Franklyn Gimbel told TODAY’S TMJ4 reporter Tom Murray that Spooner is likely to testify.  They are expected to argue Spooner is not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect.

“The question here is not whether John Spooner shot this young man, but what was behind it, what was the environment,” Gimbel said in an interview.  “There is no better source about a person’s life and the issues that trouble that person than for that person to explain his background to the jury.”

The judge, prosecutor and defense attorney each pressed potential jurors on whether or not the George Zimmerman verdict in Florida would impact their ability to be fair in Milwaukee.

“Is anyone going to carry any feelings about that case into this case?  There are no hands,” Assistant District Attorney Mark Williams said in court.

Darius Simmons' mother Patricia Larry was in the courtroom.  She is expected to testify about watching the neighbor shoot her son after a short verbal confrontation in May 2012.  She is represented by well-known Milwaukee civil rights lawyer Jonathan Safran.

“They want to have some closure and they’re certainly interested in the trial going forward and for hopefully John Spooner to be convicted,” Safran told reporters. “What possessed Jon Spooner to shoot a black, 13-year-old boy?  People will have to draw their own conclusions.  There doesn’t seem to be evidence presented so far that it was racially motivated, but he certainly profiled him in some way.”

Opening statements are expected Tuesday morning.  The trial is expected to last a week.