- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 15, 2005

BOWLING GREEN, Va. — A lawyer and cattleman charged with first-degree murder testified yesterday that he feared for his life when he shot a neighbor who came at him with a 3-foot stick.

“The look on his face was the meanest look on any human being’s face I’ve ever seen in my life,” John Ames, 60, said of Perry Brooks, the neighbor with whom he had feuded for 15 years.

On April 19, 2004, Mr. Ames confronted Mr. Brooks after the 74-year-old farmer went to the Ames farm to retrieve his wayward bull. Two court orders had banished Mr. Brooks from Mr. Ames’ property.

Mr. Ames, who had retrieved a 9 mm semiautomatic handgun from his truck, said he turned to go back to the vehicle to get his cell phone to call the sheriff’s office and found himself face to face with Mr. Brooks.

Mr. Brooks came at him and swung the stick, Mr. Ames testified. Mr. Ames retreated and fired five shots at his neighbor, he testified.

“It was totally reaction,” Mr. Ames said of the quick, violent encounter.

During cross-examination, Commonwealth’s Attorney Harvey Latney questioned why Mr. Ames continued firing when Mr. Brooks dropped the stick after the second or third shot. Mr. Ames said after Mr. Brooks dropped the stick, he lunged toward him.

“I think I saved my own life,” Mr. Ames said.

Mr. Latney responded, “And you took a life, didn’t you?”

Mr. Ames said, “I wish it hadn’t happened, Mr. Latney, but he left me no options.”

Mr. Ames acknowledged under cross-examination that he had not been directly threatened by Mr. Brooks and had not seen him with a shotgun since a confrontation in 1989.

However, the feud continued after that as Mr. Brooks repeatedly tore down a disputed fence and Mr. Ames repeatedly impounded Mr. Brooks’ bull when it wandered onto his property.

Mr. Latney said of their simmering feud, “It had to end, didn’t it?”

Mr. Ames replied, “Not this way.”

Craig Cooley, Mr. Ames’ attorney, maintained that Mr. Brooks swung the stick at Mr. Ames because he knew he faced jail for violating the court order to stay off Mr. Ames’ property.

“He was caught red-handed,” Mr. Cooley said. “He knew he was going back to jail. The only way he could stop that was to do in Mr. Ames.”

Mr. Ames testified that he sought help from the Caroline County Sheriff’s office several times over the years — to no avail.

“I just wanted something to be done so we could live in peace,” Mr. Ames said.

The feud between Mr. Ames and Mr. Brooks began after Mr. Ames bought the 675-acre Holly Hill estate in 1986 and built a new fence around the property to protect his valuable Black Angus herd. Relying on an obscure state law, Mr. Ames billed his neighbors for part of the cost of the fence. Mr. Brooks never paid, despite a 1991 Virginia Supreme Court ruling siding with Mr. Ames.

Mr. Brooks also claimed that part of the fence was on his property. He sued Mr. Ames and lost.

The fence was periodically cut by Mr. Brooks or knocked down by his bull, which wandered onto Mr. Ames’ property and roamed amid his prize beef cattle, according to court papers and testimony. Mr. Ames impounded the bull as allowed by state law, and Mr. Brooks had to pay for animal’s feeding and care until he retrieved it.

Mr. Brooks came to Holly Hill to again retrieve his bull the morning he was killed. Mr. Ames had told Mr. Brooks that he could send someone else, with a check for $500, to get the animal.

The prosecution contends that Mr. Ames suspected Mr. Brooks would violate court orders not to enter Holly Hill Farm and would come for the bull himself, so he waited and shot Mr. Brooks — first in the face, then several times in the chest after Mr. Brooks hit the ground.

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