Friday, September 18, 2009

Man Kills Intruder With Sword

Here's the link to The Baltimore Sun

Hours earlier, someone had broken into John Pontolillo's house and taken two laptops and a video-game console. Now it was past midnight, and he heard noises coming from the garage out back.
The Johns Hopkins University undergraduate didn't run. He didn't call the police. He grabbed his samurai sword.
With the 3- to 5-foot-long, razor-sharp weapon in hand, police say, Pontolillo crept toward the noise. He noticed a side door in the garage had been pried open. When a man inside lunged at him, police say, the confrontation was fatal.
"He was backed up against a corner and either out of fear or out of panic, he just struck the sword with force," said Baltimore Police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi. "It was probably with fear for his life."
Pontolillo, who rents the house in the 300 block of E. University Parkway in the Oakenshawe neighborhood, struck the intruder no more than twice, police say, nearly severing his left hand and inflicting what police termed a "spear laceration."
The intruder, Donald D. Rice of Baltimore, a 49-year-old repeat offender who had been released from jail only Saturday, died at the bloody scene.

(D.R.) So I imagine lots of us will have mixed feelings about this incident. The short video above is not the original from the article, which did not have an embed code.
In that video, the robber/victim's sister states that Rice never entered the house, and was killed in the garage.
She makes a legal point here. I believe in most States you are required to prove that you have retreated to another part of the house to avoid an intruder before using lethal force. I'm not a lawyer, so I can only speculate.
Let's re-frame the context of the incident:
Is a sword the right choice for a home defense weapon? I know that my swords are too big to effectivly use them inside a house. Secondly, I would rather leave an intruder alive and beat-to-shit than possibly face prosecution for killing him.
Other weapons?
1. Claw hammer: The absolutely most useful self-defense tool for anyone
2. Club or short stick: Not as effective as a hammer but in trained hands effective
3. Baseball bat: starting to get too long for use in hallways etc., but not bad
4. Short Bladed weapon: Possibly as lethal as a sword, kitchen or hunting knives
5. Shall we say it? Handgun. Well, you have to worry about bullets going through apartment walls etc., but I can't deny that it may simply work as a deterrent.
6. Call 911 and let the police deal with it, since it is IN THE GARAGE

Prosecuters are deciding if they will charge the swordsman. How would you handle the situation?

***Thanks Eric, for sending the story


Taekwondo Fallais said...

“Before you criticize someone, you should walk a mile in their shoes."

Very true... you can't know what happened, and judging from afar is easy. Either way.

Moreover :
"That way when you criticize them, you are a mile away from them and you have their shoes.”


BSM said...

It's hard to comment without seeing the police report. Maryland is a blue state so I will say he probably stands a higher chance of being charged. Where it Texas, for example, I'd wager they would not charge him!

Charles James said...

I would have kept on station at the garage door and shouted that I had called the police and they were in route.

Only if he had entered the house would I have gone for self-defense. I would have used my hands and feet, most hands tho and only if I perceived he was going to attack me or my room mates.

If he lunged I would have clocked him but if I perceived hesitation then I would say to him, hit the road the cops are coming; I will not try to stop you, etc.

Then again, we were not there and not confronted.

The point here is I would have left him in the garage and protected the main house.

Even if I had a sword there is no way I would have picked it up to use. If a real katana then it is to lethal and to long for the house but if it were the wakasashi then maybe but only to deter the intruder, i.e. hold at chudan level center pointed at him...yadda yadda yadda...

Toldain said...

I read a different report which described several relevant things:

Items had been stolen from Pontolillo's home that evening, laptops, etc. Police had come to the door, and cursory search had not turned up anyone.

Pontolillo yelled to call the cops, backed up, and raised the sword when he found someone.

He struck when the guy rushed him. The strike nearly severed the guys hand and dealt a very large upper body wound. By the way, doesn't this define stupid?

I think I agree that an actual sword is a poor choice for home defense. It's no good if the invader has a gun, and leads to this kind of problem if he's unarmed.

My choice of home defense weapon is actually a bokken. I've picked one up a couple of times, once for racoons, actually, but never had to use it.

If I were to use a firearm, it would be a sawed-off shotgun with some kind of fine load, which would not go through walls. But has plenty of stopping power.

Steve Perry said...

The reports are conflicting, but I'm guessing that the grand jury won't charge this guy. If he was literally backed against a wall, even if it was outside the garage, that constitutes self-defense in pretty much any state. He didn't know the guy was there, though he was worried somebody might be, so the intent to kill is almost impossible to prove.

I see him getting a walk. I am imagining a downward cut and then thrust, maybe to the throat.

Normally, with the dogs, who like to bark at any squirrel or possum or raccoon who might be out in the yard, if they go bananas, I take a flashlight and a handgun out to see if that's all it is.

I confess that once there was a terrible barking row out in the yard as I was drying off from a shower one night. I ran down the hall, grabbed the wall-hanger SS samurai sword from the rack in my office and barreled out the back door with the sword in one hand and the sheath in the other.

Not that good an idea, and it was only a possum the dogs had cornered, so I shooed them off and went back inside. Had it been a prowler, though, I can't image what he might have thought. Would have scared the crap out of me I'd been going to do a bit of burglary and saw a big naked white man charge out the door, waving McCloud's sword.

There can be only One ...

Scott said...

I think they should frame the severed hand and put it up next to the "Neighborhood Watch" sign.

I generally think keeping sharpened swords in the home is idiotic, but if there were more stories like this one I'd start selling a sword-video home defense package. (Maybe I could use that image of Uma Thurman plucking out Daryl Hannah's eyeball on the cover.

The only way that college kid is going to do time is if the jury is packed with robbers and junkies. As long has his lawyer is wearing a karate kid head band and has a bottle of whiskey on the table, he can sleep through the trial--Americans love justifiable violence!
Andrew Jackson chased his future wife's husband into the forest with a Bowie Knife so that he wouldn't be able to testify against him.
I think we made him president.

Wim Demeere said...

Let's hope he walks away from this. Doesn't Maryland have a Castle law?
Says so there.

In any case, if these are the facts (and we weren't there so we don't know) then I hope he walks. You break into houses, you better accept bad things can happen. If you don't like it, then don't break the frikkin' law...

BSM said...

Wim -

Good find! More to the point:

Maryland Self-defense.

"By common law, some self defense in Maryland requires duty-to-retreat. Maryland at present, has no "Castle Doctrine" exception set down in statutory law per se, [1] but does have case law indicating duty to retreat does not apply when attacked in one's home. Other exceptions to duty to retreat are being the victim of a robbery, situations where the imminent peril of attack makes retreat impossible or retreat would not remove the danger..."

So lets add to the arm chair lawyering! He could not retreat and the courts in Maryland tend to support the "castle law" in case law. I stand corrected and suspect he'll walk.

As for self-dense, a sword is a piss poor choice!

There's all sorts of clubs, batons, etc. that you can use. In fact, I have several scattered around the house and one in the car. However, they don't do much good against a firearm.

Where I ever to go down the firearm route again I'd go the tactical shotgun route. I used to own a Mossberg 500 that was converted legally. Just check with your state to find out the legal length for a shortened barrel. You can even drop down to 20 gauge. A little bit lighter but still packs a nice wallop.

Oh, and if you are worried about bullets going through walls you can purchase safety slugs, or ceramic bullets that will shatter if they hit a hard surface. Back in my prison days we had an inner yard and when things got dicey they'd staff the tower with an officer who had a mini-14 loaded with ceramic rounds.

Sean C. Ledig said...

Generally speaking, (and I'm a paralegal, not a lawyer), the retreat rule does not apply to one's own home. Sometimes, it extends to property under your control, such as your car or office.

In theory, once you are home, you cannot retreat any farther. Here in Florida and generally in some western states, there is no retreat rule. You are allowed to stand your ground any place you are legally allowed to be.

Legally speaking, a sword is a poor choice for self-defense. I've seen this in many places and had it confirmed by my former Wing Chun sifu, Hunter von Unschuld. Hunter is also a retired criminal defense lawyer from the Cook County (Ill.) public defender's office.

The problem is that it is easier to convince a jury you killed in self defense if you used a gun than if you killed a man with a knife, sword or even bare hands. Swords, knives and bare hands are just too personal, you have to get too close to the person you kill. That just turns off most people, comes across as too vicious. Most people think of killing with a knife as too messy and too painful.

A gun is perceived as a quick, clean and easy kill.

Steve Perry said...

And if you use a Lady Smith and Safety Slugs, you are better off than if you use a Skorpion and exploding hollowpoint Heart RIppers.

Dead is dead, but I've always thought that if you had to stab somebody, a Girl Scout Pocket Knife would be a lot more jury-proof than a Wolverine Fang Tactical Folder, even if the latter's blade was half as long as the former's ...

Dojo Rat said...

Now I need one of those Skorpions with hollow-point heart-rippers and a Wolverine Fang Tactical Folder...

Anonymous said...

Although I doubt the student had time to think about it, something else one should consider when preparing for home defense is the fact that in some places, injuring a robber can lead to the robber suing YOU if you injure him severely enough to cause him "pain and suffering" that he can show a jury. IIRC, some juries have awarded damages to a criminal because the victim caused some sort of permanent damage while defending person and property.

Even if the student is not charged, expect the sister to sue for wrongful death and seek a portion of the future doctor's salary in compensation for the loss of her brother.

There is something seriously flawed in American society these days. The thing is, I'm not sure if it would be better anywhere else.

Sean C. Ledig said...

Mendur is right.

You can file a lawsuit for pretty much anything. Even if the homeowner is not charged criminally, the burglar's survivors can sue for wrongful death.

If that does happen, I hope the judge has the decency to throw it out.