Long-running West Goshen neighborhood rancor ends in killing

Brooks Jennings
George Brooks Jennings with his wife, Jill, and his son, Matthew, now 9. Prosecutors say Jennings was shot and killed by his neighbor.

Steve Oliver knew Clayton P. Carter III as a man with a temper.

Since Carter moved in next door to George Brooks Jennings and his wife, Jill, in their quiet Chester County neighborhood a few years ago, Oliver said, the 51-year-old Carter had tormented the family. Oliver, brother of Jill Jennings, said Carter particularly targeted his brother-in-law.

“That guy is a menace to society,” Oliver said.

In all, Oliver said, Carter’s long-running dispute with Jennings resulted in more than 70 calls to police in the last five years or so. West Goshen police said that estimate sounded high but they did not have the exact numbers on hand.

That feud in West Goshen took a devastating turn early Tuesday, when prosecutors say Carter shot and killed Brooks Jennings after a confrontation over a spotlight. Carter’s attorney said his client was attacked and acted in self-defense.

Surrounded by family and friends at her home on the 300 block of Box Elder Drive on Wednesday afternoon, a shaken Jill Jennings — who prosecutors say watched Carter shoot her husband from an inside window — politely declined to speak to a reporter.

But standing under a tree on the front lawn, just feet from the driveway where Brooks Jennings was killed, Oliver shared the family’s grief — and his own frustration.

“It could have been prevented,” Oliver said. “It’s obvious to me.”

Oliver said he had spoken to friends in law enforcement, who told him there isn’t much police can do when someone is behaving erratically or aggressively on their own property.

West Goshen police once responded to another neighbor’s call about Carter’s carrying a gun on his own property, Chief Joseph Gleason said, but that was something he was legally permitted to do.

“I get the law, but I also know what common sense is,” Oliver said. “Enough is enough.”

Gleason, meanwhile, said his department did all it could do to contain the feud.

“I think if something could have been done, we would have done it,” Gleason said. In the past, “we had allegations, but we never had proof.”

Since January, police had a record of seven interactions with Carter, Gleason said. Those included complaints of Carter revving his motorcycle, as well as calls that Carter made to police.

Before Jennings was killed, West Goshen police had last interacted with Carter just before 8 p.m. Monday. Police were called to the block to resolve another dispute between Jennings and Carter, according to the complaint. Gleason said it was purely a verbal altercation; a news release from the District Attorney’s Office said the argument was related to “cursing and a video recording in the backyard.”

A few hours later, tensions escalated. Carter returned home from an errand at about 1 a.m. when he saw Jennings outside, according to the complaint. Carter grabbed his .380-caliber Ruger semi-automatic handgun from inside his home and went back outside to move his car.

He and Jennings began arguing about a spotlight issue; Carter later told police that Jennings was shining a light on him. Carter then drove his car onto the grass so it faced Jennings with the high beams on, according to the complaint.

Carter got out of his car and the argument continued. Carter shot Jennings, who collapsed. Carter then stood over Jennings, who lay motionless on his own driveway, and shot him once more in the head, according to the complaint.

A man who answered the door Wednesday at the Carter residence declined to comment.

Carter’s attorney, Terrence J. Marlowe, said his client was protecting himself when he shot Jennings.

“My client is claiming self-defense and justification,” Marlowe said. “Mr. Jennings was tormenting him and attacked him with a knife.”

Police did recover a knife at the scene, according to the complaint, but Carter had no wounds and did not call 911. Witnesses who heard the gunshots told authorities there seemed to be a delay between the first and second shots.

At the scene, police also recovered Carter’s handgun, which he had placed on top of a nearby car, as well as two shell casings — one on Carter’s property and another near Jennings’ body.

Gleason said he could not discuss specifics of the case, as the investigation was ongoing.

Carter had a history of disputes with other neighbors, too, according to the complaint. Residents of several surrounding homes did not want to comment, but Oliver said Carter’s rage was well-known along the street.

Carter was territorial about his property, Oliver said, and would place nails under the tires of cars that were parked near his home. West Goshen police had received reports of nails in the roadway there, but with no indication of where they came from, Gleason said.

Carter had also gotten into verbal altercations with Jill Jennings, Oliver said. At times, Carter had directed his anger toward Oliver, too.

Once, when Oliver was visiting the Jenningses, he said Carter spit on Oliver’s car and then followed him halfway to his home in Exton. Another time, he said, Carter told him to put a bullet in the head of his own dog, Rocky.

Carter had been arrested twice before in Pennsylvania, according to court records. In 1998, he was arraigned in Chester County on felony counts of aggravated assaulted, trespassing, and assault, but the charges were reduced to a summary offense.

In October 2012, Carter was charged with two misdemeanor counts of simple assault in Lancaster County, where he lived at the time, but authorities ultimately decided not to prosecute.

Carter is retired, and previously owned Loretta’s Mobile Home Park in Downingtown, according to Marlowe. He and his wife moved into the home on Box Elder Lane a few years ago to care for his wife’s parents. Carter’s mother-in-law has since died, but the father-in-law and Carter’s wife still reside in the home.

Carter remained jailed without bail at the Chester County Prison on Thursday, with a preliminary hearing set for Aug. 24.

The Jenningses, for their part, continued to mourn the loss of a husband and father of a 9-year-old son.

Oliver said he was always fond of his brother-in-law, who — before proposing to Jill — asked not only for her father’s permission but also for Oliver’s.

“I’d never heard of someone asking the brother,” Oliver said, and that gesture stuck with him.

In the neighborhood, Jennings was beloved, Oliver said. A Chester County Republican Committee member, Jennings even used to take Carter’s father-in-law to local political events.

And when it came to Carter, Jennings never wanted any bad blood, Oliver said.

“He was his neighbor. Brooks always tried to work it out,” Oliver said. “Brooks was the type of person who tried to fix things.”

Violent crime is rare in Chester County, which averages about 10 homicides a year, according to the District Attorney’s Office.

The most recent Chester County homicide investigations were the June road-rage shooting of Bianca Roberson and a killing in Coatesville last week, Assistant District Attorney Michael Noone said.