- The Washington Times - Friday, September 16, 2005

BOWLING GREEN, Va. — A jury yesterday found a lawyer-cattleman not guilty in the slaying of his neighbor, concluding he was acting in self-defense when the 74-year-old neighbor came after him with a 3-foot stick.

Jurors deliberated five hours before returning their verdict in the first-degree murder trial of John Ames. He was accused in the April 2004 killing of Perry Brooks, a man with whom he had feuded for 15 years.

One juror said the jury agreed with Mr. Ames’ testimony — that he was fearful for his life when he repeatedly shot his stick-wielding neighbor. She said jurors initially were divided on the lesser charges of second-degree murder and voluntary manslaughter or acquittal, but thought the law was clear and sided with Mr. Ames’ version of events.

“We think he was afraid,” said the juror, who refused to give her name.

Jurors were particularly swayed by defense attorney Craig Cooley’s thwacking of the stick on the defense table and their own examination of it in the jury room. They were impressed by its heft, she said.

“That heavy piece of wood is also a weapon,” the juror said.

Mr. Brooks’ wife, Evelyn, said after the verdict, “I don’t know what to think. I’ve been through so much.”

Mr. Ames was stoic as the verdict was read. He later declined to talk to reporters.

A reporter asked Mr. Ames if he was relieved and his wife, Jeanne, said, “I’m relieved.”

The weeklong trial focused on the morning of April 19, 2004, when Mr. Brooks and two other men went to Mr. Ames’ farm to retrieve a bull that had left Mr. Brooks’ property and wandered onto Mr. Ames’ 675-acre farm.

Mr. Ames testified he shot Mr. Brooks after he came after him with the stick.

“The look on his face was the meanest look on any human being’s face I’ve ever seen in my life,” Mr. Ames, 60, said of Mr. Brooks in testimony Thursday.

Mr. Ames shot Mr. Brooks four times, killing him.

The bad blood between the two began after Mr. Ames bought the sprawling farm in 1986 and built a fence to protect his prized herd.

Relying on an obscure state law, Mr. Ames billed his neighbors for part of its cost. Mr. Brooks never paid, despite a 1991 Virginia Supreme Court ruling siding with Mr. Ames.

The two began feuding in 1989 over the disputed fence, which Mr. Brooks repeatedly knocked down or cut, allowing his diseased bull to mingle with Mr. Ames’ valuable Black Angus herd.

A prosecutor said that on April 19, 2004, Mr. Ames seized an opportunity to end the feud when his neighbor trespassed onto his farm to get the bull, which Mr. Ames had impounded.

Mr. Cooley said all the physical evidence supported Mr. Ames’ account of the incident.

After the verdict, Mr. Cooley said, “Mr. Ames is going to go back with his family and try to live the rest of his life in peace.”

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