Q: In the early 1990s, a man named Gordon was shot and killed by his neighbor, an off-duty CHP officer, over a fence they shared. What happened with the case?
A: A Sacramento County jury acquitted Jack John Thomas, 46, of second-degree murder in the 1991 shooting death of his neighbor, 35-year-old Gordon L. Chance Jr., in front of a 6-foot fence that separated their properties in Orangevale.
Following six days of deliberation, jurors concluded that Thomas, an off-duty California Highway Patrol officer, acted in self-defense. Although it was determined that Chance had only a beer can in his hand when he was shot, Thomas’ attorney produced evidence that Chance was unstable and had threatened the lives of Thomas and his family before and on the day of the shooting, April 18, 1991.
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The two men had been squabbling over the fence for some time. Chance had complained that Thomas’ fence was too high, ugly and poorly built, a “spite fence” that was “aesthetically inconsistent with the neighborhood,” the prosecutor said.
On the morning of April 18, Chance took a chain saw to the fence, cutting the posts off at the ground and pushing sections down as he made his way along the length of the fence, according to stories in The Sacramento Bee. Sheriff’s deputies were called, and Thomas made a citizen’s arrest on Chance, charging him with malicious mischief.
Chance was taken into custody and booked into county jail, then released a few hours later.
Upon returning home, Chance and two companions found Thomas rebuilding the fence using angle iron and chain linking. They began to ridicule Thomas and the fence, but after a few beers, the friends departed, leaving Thomas and Chance on opposite sides of the fence.
Testimony showed that Chance was acting “crazy”, taunting, harassing and threatening Thomas, in what Thomas’ attorney described as “an atmosphere of intimidation.”
Thomas went into his house, picked up and loaded a gun, and returned to the fence, where he found Chance crouched down with one hand hidden from view. Believing Chance was about to fulfill his threats,Thomas fired five rounds at his neighbor. The first round struck Chance in front of the left ear, and the others entered the back of his head and shoulders. Chance’s beer can was found in a post hole.
While waiting for investigators to arrive after the shooting, The Bee reported, Thomas was heard to say, “A man can only take so much.”