- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 11, 2005

RICHMOND — This much is undisputed: John Ames and Perry Brooks despised each other, and their long-simmering feud finally boiled over last year when Mr. Ames fatally shot his neighbor.

But was it cold-blooded murder, or was a frightened Mr. Ames defending himself against an enraged, stick-wielding trespasser? That’s what a jury will be asked to decide this week.

Mr. Ames, a bankruptcy lawyer and cattle farmer, is charged with first-degree murder. Jury selection is scheduled to begin this morning in Caroline County Circuit Court in Bowling Green.

Defense attorneys have asked to move the trial from Caroline County, which they say is sharply divided over the high-profile case. A judge will rule on the motion after the court attempts to seat an unbiased jury, said defense attorney J. Benjamin Dick.

Mr. Dick said the defense team’s polling suggests that the rural county’s 23,800 residents are evenly split on their perception of Mr. Ames’ guilt.

“That’s about as tough a polarization as you can get,” Mr. Dick said.

Caroline Circuit Judge Horace Revercomb recused himself because Mr. Ames is a practicing lawyer in the area, although his office is in Richmond. The Virginia Supreme Court appointed retired Arlington Circuit Judge Paul Sheridan to preside over the trial.

The animosity between Mr. Ames and his crusty 74-year-old neighbor was well-known in the community even before the April 19, 2004, shooting on the farm where Mr. Ames raised Black Angus cattle.

It started in the 1980s after Mr. Ames bought the 675-acre Holly Hill estate and built a fence around the property. Mr. Ames invoked an obscure state law to compel his neighbors to share in the cost of the fence, which is slightly higher than 5 feet and is made of high-tensile wire and barbed wire stretched between wooden posts.

Mr. Brooks refused to pay, despite a 1991 Virginia Supreme Court ruling siding with Mr. Ames. Over the next several years, the fence was periodically cut by Mr. Brooks or knocked down by his bull, which wandered onto Mr. Ames’ property and mingled with his prized herd, local court papers show.

Mr. Ames fought his neighbor mostly in court, seeking compensation for fence repairs and for dealing with Mr. Brooks’ wayward bull. Mr. Ames said Mr. Brooks once fired a shotgun in his direction as he fled and later brandished a gun in a confrontation with a security guard Mr. Ames had hired.

The final confrontation occurred when Mr. Brooks entered Mr. Ames’ property to again retrieve his bull.

Although the voluminous court file paints a vivid picture of the feud, Mr. Dick says there is more to the story — and it will be revealed this week.

“There will be some surprises,” he said. “We have to play those cards close to the vest. But what really happened will come out at trial.”

Some of that likely will come directly from Mr. Ames. Mr. Dick and co-counsel Craig Cooley said they expect their client to testify.

“He’s going to have a lot to say,” Mr. Dick said. “It’s been a 15-year ordeal.”

Caroline County Commonwealth’s Attorney Harvey Latney did not return phone calls or respond to an e-mail seeking comment.

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