IRISHMAN SHOT DEAD IN CALIFORNIA WAS CONVICTED HORSE ABUSER
An Irishman shot dead in Northern California was at the centre of an animal cruelty row with local prosecutors at the time of his death.
Sheriff's deputies have charged the neighbour of horse owner John O'Sullivan, originally from Valentia island in Co. Kerry, with murder.
O'Sullivan, who was gunned down on Sunday in Fiddletown, about 72 kilometres/42 miles from Sacramento, the state capital, had a long-running dispute with Kenneth John Zimmerman and the pair had been feuding on the night of his death.
But O'Sullivan, who had lived in the United States for 20 years, was a highly controversial and disliked character in his adopted hometown in the Sierra Nevada foothills.
Sheriff's deputies discovered the Irishman's bullet-riddled body sitting on his tractor in the brush near Zimmerman's home.
Earlier that evening 56-year-old Zimmerman had telephoned police at aroun 7.45 alleging O'Sullivan had driven a tractor though his locked gate and accusing him of striking him in the face with his open hand during an altercation and trying to run him over with the tractor.
Zimmerman, who is being held in custody without bail, told the emergency dispatcher that the Amador County Sheriff’s officers had better hurry up and get there “before I shoot him.”
About 15 minutes after Zimmerman's call, O'Sullivan's wife also telephoned the emergency 911 number to report that she heard several gunshots and could not find her husband.
But Zimmerman wasn't the only one gunning for 47-year-old O'Sullivan.
At the time of his death, O'Sullivan was battling with local prosecutors, who he alleged had maliciously prosecuted him in a long-running horse maltreatment case which led to him being convicted of animal cruelty.
And local animal activists were also trying to prevent O'Sullivan from owning horses.
Prosecutors have been trying to get a malicious-prosecution case O'Sullivan had brought against them dismissed.
The Irishman's lawsuit alleged various rights violations by Amador County in its 2007 prosecution of him.
O'Sullivan, who is a member of a long established native Valentia Island family and was the eldest of a family of eight, some of whom still live on Valentia and in the Tralee area, was seeing unspecified money damages.
A Sacramento federal magistrate in June heard and took under consideration arguments from the lawsuit's co-plaintiff Krista Clem - who is married to O'Sullivan - and from private counsel John Whitesides representing Todd Riebe, an Amador district lawyer.
O'Sullivan's troubles with officials stretch back to January 2006 when three of his allegedly malnurished horses were handed over to animal welfare activist Beth DeCaprio and a team of volunteers.
DeCaprio, the president of the Grace Foundation, a charity that rehabilitates abused horses, said around the time of O'Sullivan's trial that it was a miracle she had got hold of them because otherwise they would have died within a few weeks.
DeCaprio and her team spent a year nursing the horses, that were little more than skin and bones, back to health, watching each of them put on 400 pounds within the first three months.
"These were animals we'd taken from the brink of death and brought back to life," she said.
DeCaprio launched a successful letter-writing campaign to ensure that O'Sullivan, who was convicted of two charges of animal cruelty, was never handed back the animals he had abused.
O'Sullivan was prosecuted and had animals taken away from him after a neighbour – believed to be Zimmerman – had complained to officials from Amador County Animal Control of emaciated horses on O'Sullivan's ranch.
Animal Control Director John Vail said that when inspectors got to the ranch they found "one dead horse and five others in very poor condition."
The horses were seized and O'Sullivan was charged with cruelty to animals.
Three of the horses made their way to the Grace Foundation's 600-acre ranch near El Dorado Hills, which is home to about 100 other rescued horses. Two were sent to an undisclosed location, Vail said.
The family of O'Sullivan, who emigrated to the US in the early 1980s, were the owners of the Royal Hotel in Knightstown until they sold it a few years back.
Before leaving Ireland, O'Sullivan worked in the building trade and played Gaelic football with Valentia Island and was regarded as a fine footballer.