Krista Clem with John O'Sullivan and their youngest child

THE wife and four children of an Irishman shot dead in the US spent the Christmas holidays with his family in Kerry as the threat of losing their California home hung over their heads. John O'Sullivan was killed by his neighbour, Kenneth Zimmerman, last August, when years of acrimony culminated in a fatal argument outside his home.

Zimmerman's trial was due to have begun this month but has been put back to 2 March; he faces 61 years to life in prison if found guilty of homicide.

Fresh ballistic evidence has also been discovered at the crime scene which the prosecution says will further demonstrate "the callous nature of the act".

Zimmerman's bail was set at $3m, a decision that horrified his supporters in a town that one source said is now split in two over the violent death of O'Sullivan.

In a recent court hearing, the victim's family told the judge that they feared for their safety should Zimmerman be released.

Amador superior court judge Dave Richmond, deciding on bail, said: "This court is very concerned about the security of the public if Mr Zimmerman was released. I don't think this individual can control his temper."

Commenting after the hearing, defence attorney Richard Cotta said: "The court seemed very concerned today about Mr Zimmerman's ability to control his temper but I think it's fair to say that none of us would even be here right now if Mr O'Sullivan could have controlled his."

Before Christmas, O'Sullivan's wife Krista Clem told the Sunday Tribune she was in fear of losing the home she shares with her four children, as her husband's death had left them in a financially precarious position.

While she spent the holiday in Ireland, a family friend looked after the ranch in Amador County, north California, which was decorated with pictures and memorabilia in tribute to O'Sullivan.

The fate of the family home is unclear although officials were ready to foreclose on the property due to mounting debts since his death.

"It's a very small county here. It's just one of those things. The vultures are circling," said the family friend. "She has a lot of friends and they are trying to do the best they can for her. It's difficult but there is also a glimmer of hope out there."