Crime

Judge: Squaw Valley man will stand trial on gun charge in dispute over puppies

John “Jack” DiLorenzo, 75, lives alone with more than a dozen dogs in a hilltop home at the end of an unmarked road off Butternut Lane in Squaw Valley.
John “Jack” DiLorenzo, 75, lives alone with more than a dozen dogs in a hilltop home at the end of an unmarked road off Butternut Lane in Squaw Valley. plopez@fresnobee.com

A Squaw Valley man will stand trial for pointing a loaded gun at an unarmed backhoe driver and threatening to kill him in a dispute over two puppies, a judge ruled Tuesday in Fresno County Superior Court.

Judge Arlan Harrell made his ruling after John DiLorenzo testified that he was justified in pointing a gun at Robert Cossey last May because he believed Cossey was about to crush the puppies to death.

In addition, DiLorenzo, 75, said he feared for his life because he believed the 58-year-old Cossey was going to beat him up.

But Harrell said the case was “not about the puppies.”

Instead, the judge said it was about DiLorenzo’s conduct after he jumped on the backhoe, grabbed the backhoe keys from the ignition and threw them into the woods.

After Cossey pushed DiLorenzo off the backhoe, DiLorenzo grabbed a gun from his car, loaded it, cocked it and aimed it at Cossey, the judge said.

In his ruling, Harrell said there was insufficient evidence to support DiLorenzo’s claim of self-defense.

The judge, however, said there was enough evidence to order DiLorenzo to stand trial on a felony charge of making a criminal threat while brandishing a gun.

If convicted, DiLorenzo faces as much as 10 years in prison.

Afterward, a dejected DiLorenzo and his lawyer, Donna Standard, said their only hope is for a jury to hear the evidence. “If I didn’t stop him with the gun, he would have killed me,” DiLorenzo insisted.

DiLorenzo lives alone with more than a dozen dogs. His hilltop home is on 10 acres at the end of an unmarked road off Butternut Lane.

His criminal case touches on a rare legal strategy called the necessity defense, which, in general, permits a defendant to act in a criminal manner in an emergency situation to prevent greater harm from occurring.

During Tuesday’s hearing, Standard told Harrell that DiLorenzo had to take action because Cossey was about to commit felony animal cruelty. “He was trying to prevent evil from occurring,” she said.

Harrell, however, limited testimony about the necessity defense. Instead, the judge focused on the job at hand – determine whether there was probable cause to order DiLorenzo to stand trial on the criminal threat charge.

In presenting the prosecution’s case, deputy district attorney Susan Rand called Cossey to the witness stand. Cossey testified that he had gone to the property to clean it up after his daughter, Crystal Cossey, received numerous code violations from the county for excessive trash and dilapidated structures.

When he got there, Cossey said an agitated DiLorenzo confronted him.

Cossey testified that he had heard there could be dogs on the property, but he didn’t see any. He said he had to smash the structures because workers were scheduled to arrive to haul the debris away.

But before he could get started, Cossey testified, DiLorenzo climbed onto the backhoe and attacked him from behind. Cossey testified that he then pushed DiLorenzo off the backhoe, which he said was a drop of about five feet.

DiLorenzo testified that Crystal Cossey had given him written permission to be on the property to rescue six abandoned dogs. He said he had rescued four dogs from the property and set traps to catch the other two. He told the judge he knew the dogs were there because he had been providing food to them for months.

DiLorenzo said when he jumped onto the backhoe, his intent was to tell Cossey that he was committing animal cruelty. DiLorenzo testified that if Cossey wouldn’t listen, his plan was to grab the backhoe keys from the ignition and throw them into the woods – and that’s what he did.

DiLorenzo testified that he never punched or attacked Cossey. Instead, Cossey hit him and threw him off the backhoe.

DiLorenzo said he suffered cut forearms from the fall. He said his head hit a boulder.

Dazed on the ground, DiLorenzo said he got up, went to his car and grabbed his gun. He said a friend who went to the property with him grabbed a shotgun.

According to Cossey, DiLorenzo pointed the gun at him, cursed him, and said, “I’m going to kill you.” Cossey testified that his daughter called 911 and that he never left the seat of the backhoe until a deputy arrived to arrest DiLorenzo.

But DiLorenzo testified that he was in fear for his life because he saw Cossey getting down from the backhoe. The gun, he said, “was to stop him in his tracks.”

Pablo Lopez: 559-441-6434, @beecourts

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