A Caroline County jury acquitted a cattleman and lawyer yesterday of killing his neighbor, ending a years-long dispute that began with a battle over a fence and ended with one man dead and the other on trial for murder.
After deliberating for about five hours, the jury sided with John Frederick Ames, 60, saying he acted in self-defense when he shot Oliver "Perry" Brooks, 74, on Ames's farm in April 2004.
"Obviously, he's extremely relieved," said Ames's attorney, Craig Cooley, who added that his 60-year-old client "just wants to live in peace. He and his family want to live in peace."
In 1989, four years after Ames moved to Holly Hill Farm, he built a fence around his 675-acre property and charged six neighbors half its cost, citing an 1887 law. 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, which sided with Ames.
Five of the neighbors paid up. Brooks refused.
Ames sued Brooks for the money, and Brooks countersued over the location of their property line.
For years, police dealt with complaints from both sides, usually over Brooks's bull, which occasionally busted through the fence and posed a threat to Ames's breed of cattle.
It was that sort of situation that brought the two men together on what would turn out to be the last day of Brooks's life.
Ames responded as usual when the bull appeared on his property in April 2004: He called the sheriff's office to intervene and demanded payment for taking care of the animal. Brooks aimed to get the bull himself, despite a court order barring him from Ames's property.
State police said Brooks went over to Holly Hill as Ames was about to leave for his law office in Richmond. With Brooks were two men and the 2-year-old grandson of one of the men. Brooks carried a four-foot-long stick that he often used to help prod his bull.
Ames drove up, carrying his gun. Brooks made a move with the stick, and Ames responded with bullets.
Cooley said that media coverage made Ames out to be the aggressor but that evidence made it clear he was acting in self-defense.
"Brooks attacked him with a weapon that clearly could have crushed his skull," Cooley said. "He did that in the middle of [Ames's] farm while committing violations of multiple orders not to be there."
Brooks's daughter, Kim, saw it differently. "The defense's claim was that my father was physically a threat," she said. "He was 74, could not raise his right arm above shoulder level, he had a heart attack and open-heart surgery, a hip replacement and he was full of arthritis. Mr. Ames will do or say anything not to go to prison, and that's exactly what they did."
She said her mother still lives next to Holly Hill and does not plan to move. "She doesn't see [Ames] as a threat to her," Brooks said. "The feud was between the two of them.
"We always tried to talk to my father: 'Daddy, please don't go over,' " Brooks continued. "I said, 'Daddy, you were coming up against a lawyer. You can't win when that happens.'
"But," she said, "my father would not let go of the grudge he had."