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April 30, 2013

Man sentenced for shooting neighbor over barking dogs

Keats, 74, must serve minimum of six years

By Terry Oparka
C & G Staff Writer

It reportedly started long before the dogs began barking on an August night, sparking heated words, then gunfire, but it ended with one neighbor in prison and one with shrapnel in his face.

Despite attorney Paul Stablein’s arguments that George Keats’ shooting of his neighbor, John Scislowitz, was not premeditated, Oakland County Circuit Court Judge James Alexander disagreed.

On April 24, Alexander sentenced Keats to a maximum of 20 years, with a minimum of six years, for assault with intent to commit murder and possession of a firearm to commit a felony. Keats, 74, was also ordered to pay restitution.

“The sentence I’m giving you will probably be a life sentence for you,” Alexander said.

After a four-day trial that started March 26, a jury found Keats guilty of both charges.

According to police, the altercation started when Keats let his three dogs out at his home on Atlas, near Maple and Dequindre, at around 9 p.m. Aug. 17. Scislowitz reportedly yelled at Keats’ dogs and kicked the fence, in an attempt to quiet their barking. Police said Keats ran toward Scislowitz, yelled, “Don’t tell my dogs to shut up,” and fired a gun. One round struck Scislowitz in the face. He ran away as Keats reportedly fired four more rounds at him.

When police arrived, witnesses pointed out Keats, who sat on his porch with the unloaded gun behind him, police said. Officers arrested him without incident.

At the April 24 sentencing, Stablein described the incident as an “aberration.” “He (Keats) bought the home in 1968 with his wife and raised four children there.” Stablein said animosity built between the neighbors over the years.

“He is not that person,” Stablein said.  “He was planning to go to the Dream Cruise the next day. He’s 74 years old and never been in trouble with law enforcement.  He attempted to live his life right.”

He said Keats’ health issues, including diabetes, asthma and a heart condition, are not being looked after in jail, and he’s concerned about whether he’ll be able to live through the mandatory two-year sentence on the felony firearm charge.

“I should have testified at the trial,” Keats said at his sentencing.

He said that Scislowitz embarked on a “reign of terror against me and the dog. I’m happy to take a polygraph.” He said his dogs were never outside by themselves. He described himself as honest and easy to get along with.

According to court records, Keats filed for a personal protection order for stalking against Scislowitz in 2005, which was denied.

Scislowitz spoke at Keats’ sentencing. “I no longer feel safe in my yard,” Scislowitz said, weeping as he spoke. “I have nightmares and flashbacks. I used to sit in my hot tub and relax in my backyard. I’m no longer able to do that.”

He said he suffers from pain in his face and numbness. He has shrapnel in his cheek that doctors said was too difficult to remove. He said he has other health issues and is unable to have an MRI because of the shrapnel.

He said he feared that, if Keats were ever let out of jail, he would commit another unprovoked attack on Scislowitz’s family or neighbors. He said his wife and son have sleepless nights since the shooting.

“I always tried to be a friend to Dave,” he said. “I don’t know what provoked him to do this to me. If he would have just talked to me like a neighbor. I have no idea of what he is capable of doing if he’s ever let out. I’m just scared.”

“You took 74 years of success and flushed it right down the sewer,” Alexander said to Keats at his sentencing. “You walked out of that house that night and had a gun in your back pocket. No matter what I do to you, Mr. Scislowitz has a life sentence. He’s got shrapnel in his face. He’s got injuries to his face. He has a memory of the little man next door not just shooting in the face but then shooting him as he ran into the house.”

Alexander continued, “What kind of neighbor are you? You have the audacity to stand in front of me and say, ‘I’m a good guy. I’m a good neighbor.’ You lost that right, sir, when you opened up on Mr. Scislowitz. That’s not neighborly. You’re lucky he’s alive and sitting here today. You could have easily killed him, and you could be looking at life.

“You’ve got a temper,” Alexander said to Keats. “There’s no question in my mind about that. … You wanted to shoot him. You just shot a man, and you were sitting back in a chair at the police station. You were calm. You said things like, ‘I didn’t want to kill him; I wanted to teach him a lesson.’ You showed absolutely no remorse. You sit here today and blame him for your shooting. Are you kidding me? The amazing thing to me is that it took 74 years to lose your temper this way, based on what I’ve seen and what I read.”

Stablein said there was a lack of proof that the act was premeditated and the two “had a history before then. It was an impulsive act that occurred because of an on-going relationship,” he said at the sentencing. He noted that Scislowitz was released from the hospital the day after the shooting. “There is nothing life-threatening about his injury.”

A restitution hearing for Scislowitz’ $19,000 hospital bill is scheduled for June 14.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Terry Oparka at toparka@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1054.

Judge Alexander hit the nail on the head. I wish everyone could have seen how arrogant and cocky Keats was during his interrogation the night of the shooting & I wish that the other Neighbors could have testified that no, Keats was NOT a good guy and good Neighbor. My heart goes out to John Scislowicz and his Family who will forever struggle to move past what happened that night & I feel sorry for Keats' Family who's lives have been forever changed by his senseless act; you just don't go around shooting people. Despite the sentence & possible restitution, there is never a winner in this situation.