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Murder trial ordered for man accused in veterinarian's heart attack death

gavel lady justice
Posted at 5:10 PM, May 19, 2023
and last updated 2023-05-19 20:10:42-04

SAN DIEGO (CNS) - A man accused of causing an 88-year-old veterinarian's fatal heart attack by attempting to break into the victim's Rolando clinic was ordered Friday to stand trial on a murder charge.

Patrick O'Brien, 38, is charged in the June 15, 2022, death of Clark Kelly, a longtime veterinarian at Boulevard Animal Clinic on El Cajon Boulevard.

Though Kelly was found inside the clinic with a significant head wound, San Diego County's chief medical examiner testified Thursday that Kelly died of a stress-induced heart attack, then likely fell and struck the floor or a desk.

Dr. Steven Campman said despite the finding of a heart attack, the death was classified as a homicide. If not for the stress caused by the attempted break-in, Kelly would not have died, Campman testified.

In arguing to hold O'Brien to answer for murder, Deputy District Attorney Andrew Aguilar cited another case in which a victim died of a heart attack and a defendant was convicted of first-degree murder. In that case, the victim was punched by the defendant and died of a heart attack one hour later. Aguilar said the evidence showed the death was not caused by the assault, but rather by the stress over what occurred, leading to the heart attack.

O'Brien's defense attorney, Peter Will, argued that while O'Brien was seen outside the clinic, there wasn't sufficient evidence to show his client tried to break into the business.

He also said the other fatal heart attack case mentioned by the prosecution involved an assault. At the same time, there was no evidence showing any physical contact whatsoever occurred between O'Brien and Kelly.

San Diego Superior Court Judge Joan Weber said the evidence supported that O'Brien attempted to get into the clinic and that he had a verbal altercation with Kelly.

Weber cited a recording played in court of the 911 call Kelly made, in which he told a dispatcher, "There's an intruder who's broken into the clinic."

Weber called the "fear" in Kelly's voice during the call "compelling evidence" of the stress Kelly was under at the time. She also referenced Campman's testimony that the stress Kelly underwent was the direct cause of the fatal heart attack, despite the fact that he had a documented history of heart problems.

O'Brien made statements to officers after his arrest, in which he allegedly said Kelly was rude to him and angered him, the judge said.

Though she described it as "obviously a very unusual felony murder case," Weber ruled there was enough evidence to support the murder charge.

O'Brien was arrested near the clinic shortly after the alleged attempted break-in. According to testimony, witnesses pointed O'Brien out to officers and they found him sitting near a trash bin about 30 feet from the clinic.

Kristian Howard testified that he was at a nearby liquor store when a woman ran into the store asking for help. The woman, who he later learned was Kelly's wife, said a man was "trying to break into our place," Howard testified.

Howard and another man walked over and saw O'Brien outside the clinic. O'Brien told the men, "I just bought the place."

During O'Brien's two-day preliminary hearing, testimony touched on two other incidents in which O'Brien allegedly broke into vehicles, then claimed to officers that he was the vehicles' rightful owner. Aguilar argued Friday that this similarity in the statements indicated O'Brien's intent to break into Kelly's clinic and steal property.