Like most previous Thursdays, Omer Ahmetovic arrived at Fountain Square Church on March 2, 2017, for the weekly fellowship service.
Court records indicate Ahmetovic drove to the service almost directly from the office of naturopathic caregiver Juan Gonzalez, having just shot Gonzalez dead.
Lead pastor Roger Ryan noticed a shift in Ahmetovic’s demeanor from previous encounters.
“He was very downcast, very broken. I thought it was because he was still dealing with the funeral and the passing of his wife,” Ryan said Tuesday at the sentencing hearing for Ahmetovic in Warren Circuit Court. “It was only later on that I put the pieces together.”
Ahmetovic, 36, was sentenced to 12 years in prison on charges of second-degree manslaughter and tampering with physical evidence.
He was accused of causing the death of Gonzalez, 59, at the practice that doubled as his residence and pleaded guilty to the charges in March.
“As much as I want to hate with every fiber of my being the man responsible for robbing the world of my dad, I can’t,” Karina McCracken, one of Gonzalez’s daughters, said in court Tuesday. “I think of (Ahmetovic’s) children, who are also victims. ... I don’t think my dad would want me to harbor such anger.”
Gonzalez had treated Ahmetovic’s wife, Fikreta Ibrisevic, for several months in 2016 following a cancer diagnosis.
Ibrisevic’s health worsened, and she died in February 2017.
At the time of the shooting, Ahmetovic had an active lawsuit against Gonzalez in which the caregiver was accused of fraud, negligence, battery, practicing medicine without a license, intentional infliction of emotional distress and violating the Kentucky Consumer Protection Act.
The lawsuit featured allegations that Gonzalez dissuaded Ibrisevic from seeking chemotherapy to treat her cancer.
Ibrisevic began treatments that included buying herbs from Gonzalez, massages, foot soaks and dietary instructions, but she developed six additional tumors and was told by two naturopathic experts that she had a toxic reaction to an excessive amount of herbs, according to the lawsuit.
Ahmetovic’s attorney, Alan Simpson, requested probation, alleging in a motion filed May 29 that Ahmetovic learned from his wife shortly before her death that Gonzalez had also molested her in the guise of examining her tumor.
“That’s when things started to take a very dark turn in this case,” Simpson said Tuesday.
Simpson requested probation for Ahmetovic after serving 18 months, with provisions made for Ahmetovic to complete anger management and grief counseling programs, remain in psychotherapy as long as necessary and perform 1,000 hours of community service through his church.
Dr. Eric Drogin, a clinical psychologist, testified over the phone that he visited Ahmetovic four times at Warren County Regional Jail last year and conducted a psychological evaluation that led him to conclude that Ahmetovic acted under extreme emotional disturbance at the time of the shooting.
Ryan and two other witnesses, Bob Hammond and Alan Faehner, testified on Ahmetovic’s behalf, informing the court that they were certain Ahmetovic would not commit another offense if he were placed on probation.
Hammond and Faehner lead Bible study classes at Hillvue Heights Church, which Ahmetovic attended.
Hammond said he visited Ahmetovic and his wife at their home each week to pray with them.
“I was so impressed the way he loved her ... in his actions and how he took care of her,” Hammond said of Ahmetovic and his wife. “He had to carry her from the bedroom to the couch for me to see her ... he was looking for any remedy he could find to give her relief. It was gut-wrenching for me.”
Responding to a question from Warren Circuit Judge Steve Wilson, Hammond said he was not sure if anyone at church asked Ahmetovic about who Ibrisevic was seeing for treatment, but the couple had stopped seeing Gonzalez by the time he met them.
Faehner said he knew of Ahmetovic and his wife as a couple who would make meals for the homeless who attended weekly services at Fountain Square Church.
Amanda Pharris, another daughter of Gonzalez, said her father had a passion for learning that led him into naturopathy.
Pharris said Ahmetovic and his wife made the choice to seek Gonzalez for care, but Gonzalez had no choice in his death.
“There is peace in knowing my dad found happiness, but there’s also sadness that his chosen career led to his death,” Pharris said in court.
Warren County Commonwealth’s Attorney Chris Cohron said discussions with Gonzalez’s family about resolving the case were difficult.
“This is without question a very unusual case,” Cohron said. “I do have a great deal of sympathy for Mr. Ahmetovic and what he went through with his wife.”
The prosecutor argued, though, that the circumstances surrounding the case did not justify Ahmetovic’s actions.
Wilson agreed with Cohron’s argument when he sentenced Ahmetovic.
“There were other ways to handle this without you taking the law into your own hands,” Wilson said to Ahmetovic. “I wish you would have reached out to these fine pastors and told them of your struggle ... they would have helped you find peace.”