Va. Man Who Shot Neighbor Sues Widow, Continuing Feud

John Frederick Ames, center, was acquitted in his neighbor's death. Ames's suit alleges that the widow conspired with her husband to enter his property
John Frederick Ames, center, was acquitted in his neighbor's death. Ames's suit alleges that the widow conspired with her husband to enter his property "with the intent of committing crimes and engaging in criminal activity." (By Tabitha Larue -- Caroline Progress)

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By Jerry Markon
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 1, 2006

John Frederick Ames shot and killed his neighbor. Now he's suing the widow.

After a 16-year feud that started over a fence and ended with one man dead and the other being tried on murder, it seemed that the two families might finally live in peace after Ames was acquitted last year in the death of Oliver "Perry" Brooks.

Yet, the Caroline County, Va., neighbors are back in court once again.

Ames has filed a $1.3 million lawsuit against Evelyn Brooks, saying she conspired with her husband to enter his property in violation of court orders and to otherwise harass him in an "intentional, reckless, outrageous manner.'' In response, Brooks is asking a judge to fine Ames $50,000 for what she called his "egregious conduct" in bringing a "frivolous and harassing" lawsuit.

The strong language is the latest turn in a battle that began in 1989 when Ames, a lawyer and cattleman, built a fence around his 675-acre property near Fredericksburg and charged six neighbors half its cost, citing an 1887 law. Oliver Brooks's share came to more than $45,000. Ames's neighbors refused to pay, and the case made its way to the Virginia Supreme Court.

When the court sided with Ames, five of the neighbors paid up, but Brooks refused. Ames sued Brooks for the money, and Brooks countersued over the location of the property line. For years, police fielded complaints from both sides, usually about Brooks's bull, which occasionally broke through the fence and posed a threat to Ames's cattle.

In April 2004, the dispute turned deadly. The bull roamed onto Ames's property once again, and Ames called the sheriff's office. Even though a court order barred Brooks from Ames's property, he went over to try to retrieve the bull.

Virginia State Police said Brooks encountered Ames as he was about to leave for his law office in Richmond. With Brooks were two men and the 2-year-old grandson of one of them. Brooks carried a four-foot stick that he often used to prod his bull. Ames, 60, drove up, bearing a gun. Brooks, 74, made a move with the stick, and Ames responded with bullets.

At the trial in September, Ames said he acted in self-defense. After deliberating for about five hours, the jury acquitted him. Afterward, Ames's attorney said his client "just wants to live in peace'' -- although Ames had already filed the civil suit in May 2005 in Caroline County Circuit Court.

Ames waited until last month to serve the lawsuit on Evelyn Brooks. Virginia law says civil litigants can wait a year to serve a lawsuit they have filed in court.

Ames's current attorney, L.F. Tyler III, declined to comment yesterday.

Bill Pfund, an attorney for Evelyn Brooks, said she was very surprised to be served. "We feel this is a frivolous and harassing case,'' Pfund said.

The lawsuit seeks $1.3 million in damages for what it calls harassment by Brooks. It says she knew that her husband had a "propensity for violence, assault, battery, use of fighting words and other propensities to violence" and that he was not allowed on Ames's property. It says she conspired with her husband to enter Ames's property "with the intent of committing crimes and engaging in criminal activity." The lawsuit does not specify what that activity was.

In her response, Brooks denies the allegations and says sanctions should be imposed because the lawsuit "is devoid of any factual allegations. . . . Rather, it is a confusing and ill pled recital of various 'conspiracies' allegedly engaged in by the defendant.''

A hearing is scheduled for June 23.


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