LAND O'LAKES — Frederick Heustis admits he shot his neighbor.
"Yes, I'm the bad guy," he said Wednesday afternoon from an interview room in the Land O'Lakes jail, where the 67-year-old is being held on a charge of attempted murder.
Heustis lives in Shady Hills, and on Tuesday evening, he shot his neighbor — Joseph Sosnowski, 68 — twice in the back on Sosnowski's porch. The bullets exited through his chest. A Pasco Sheriff's Office spokesman said Sosnowski, who spent 12 years working as a detention deputy in the very jail where his neighbor sits, is in stable condition and recovering.
Heustis said it was about his cats. He has about nine of them and they live outside. Heustis suspects Sosnowski's grandson and another neighbor have been killing them.
"Thirteen dead in three years," Heustis said.
There was a confrontation back in November involving Heustis, the grandson and two other men. Heustis said he caught them going through his property and overheard one say of some cats, "There's two of them. Which one should we get first?"
The three men told authorities they were just walking down Haddock Drive when Heustis charged them with a gun and said he would kill them. The revolver was missing a spring and wouldn't work. Heustis said he just wanted to scare them.
He was arrested and charged with aggravated assault. He was convicted of that charge two weeks ago and given two years of probation. He said his probation officer told him that if he did anything wrong, he would spend 38 months in prison.
The retired car mechanic, who also faced aggravated assault charges in 1980 and 2002, said he has lived in Shady Hills for 30 years and bought the land because it was cheap. He likes his privacy.
Divorced and with a grown son who sometimes visits, Heustis said he lives alone with his two birds — Tweetie Deetie and Hoodie Doodie — and his cats.
"That's my family," he said. "And I'm going to protect them."
He said he has found his cats shot inside his yard, but the authorities told him there's nothing they can do. "They didn't see it happen," he said.
Heustis said he was in his yard Tuesday working on his tractor when Sosnowski called to him through the fence.
"I tried to ignore him," Heustis said.
After Sosnowski called to him a second time, Heustis replied: "Hey, Joe, what's the problem?"
Heustis said Sosnowski told him that one of his cats — a black cat named Black Kitty — had been sitting on his grass in his yard for four days. Heustis said he told him to spray the cat with some water and he'll go away.
According to Heustis, Sosnowski replied: "Don't get smart with me, you're in enough trouble as it is." Heustis said his neighbor then threatened to complain to the county about the junk in Heustis' yard.
"He was being nasty to me," Heustis said. "He called to me like I was some kind of dog."
They argued and parted, Heustis said, and he went inside to his bedroom. He said he started shaking, and his whole body got flushed with rage.
"I was burning up," he said. "And I couldn't take it anymore."
Then he said: "I picked up my revolver and put it in my pocket."
He walked over to Sosnowski's house. He said they argued some more and Sosnowski grabbed the phone to call the police.
"When he had the phone in his hand, I was like, 'If I'm going to jail, it's going to be for a good reason,' " Heustis said.
And he shot him. Twice.
"They said I just walked back home, but I don't remember it," said Heustis, who said he was "out of it" when it all happened.
When asked if he feels guilt or remorse, Heustis said: "Yeah, I feel bad I shot him. But I wanted him to shut up and leave me alone."
He said he kept thinking of his cats: "Leave my cats alone. They are people too."
Heustis hopes one of his other neighbors is feeding his cats and birds. He misses them. Other than that, he said jail is okay. He can't get his pain pills for his bad back, he said, but they're giving him his heart medication. He had a heart attack last year and was using a wheelchair at the jail Wednesday afternoon.
He said jail life is much like his regular life: eating, napping, watching TV. Although television upsets him.
"Everything is so violent," he said. "They don't have any Ozzie and Harriet anymore."
He said he wasn't able to sleep well in his house because of his worry for his cats.
"For three years, I put up with it," he said. "I'm mad as hell."
But, he said: "Last night I slept better than I have in a long time."
Times researcher Will Gorham contributed to this story. Erin Sullivan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.