Join 3,562 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Swords are sharp
September 18, 2009 10:17 AM   Subscribe

John Pontolillo, a student at Johns Hopkins University, had just had laptops and a game console stolen from his house. Hours later, he heard a noise from the garage. Before he went to investigate, he grabbed his katana...

Inside the garage, Pontolillo was confronted by Donald D. Rice, who was release from jail three days prior. In the ensuing altercation, Rice died from blood loss due to a sword cut.

Police have determined that the event was not a homicide, although prosecutors not ruled out the possibility of a trial. There is already a fan site.

Interestingly, sword attacks have a history in Baltimore.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker (317 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

 
Wow, that "fan site" is the scariest part of the whole deal.

Someone killed someone and they're collecting funny GIF's and writing sarcastic HTML pages in response?

Height of hubris.
posted by krilli at 10:22 AM on September 18, 2009


Some days you're the lion, some days you're the gazelle and some day there are no more days.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 10:24 AM on September 18, 2009 [19 favorites]


>Wow, that "fan site" is the scariest part of the whole deal.

Yeah. I sort of get it, as a pre-emptive to the possibility of the poor kid getting booked over this, but it just feels wrong. (There's even t-shirts.)
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 10:26 AM on September 18, 2009


Agree that the fan site is blech, although I have to admit my first reaction to the headline was "that sounds kind of cool."
posted by brain_drain at 10:27 AM on September 18, 2009


Impressive, the focus required not only see the attacker coming at him, but to make the cut under such pressure. He must have had some training, maybe not, it was all adrenaline either way.
posted by limited slip at 10:30 AM on September 18, 2009


A Baltimoran here. What you left out is that the intruder was unarmed, the kid cut the guys hand practically off and let him bleed out. A. There is no need to use deadly force on an unarmed intruder B. WTH coudn't he have staunched the blood?
The other issue is that stuff like this encourages vigilante behavior. Not great to rob people but unarmed robbery =/= the death penalty :/
posted by Librarygeek at 10:31 AM on September 18, 2009 [25 favorites]


Impressive, the focus required not only see the attacker coming at him, but to make the cut under such pressure. He must have had some training, maybe not, it was all adrenaline either way.

Are you joking?
posted by graventy at 10:34 AM on September 18, 2009 [4 favorites]


>He must have had some training, maybe not, it was all adrenaline either way.

From what I understand (a remark by a policeman on a local broadcast) he didn't have any training. I suspect he was as surprised at the damage wrought as Rice was.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 10:34 AM on September 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


"With the 3- to 5-foot-long weapon in hand..."

So, this katana - it's extendable?
posted by Pecinpah at 10:35 AM on September 18, 2009 [5 favorites]


Great, now Obama will come and get out samurai swords too.
posted by shakespeherian at 10:37 AM on September 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


Would it matter if the intruder was armed or not? It seems like there are two options:
someone breaks into my home; I investigate and surprise them. Does the intruder 1) run away or 2) run at me to (presumably) attack me? Whether the intruder is armed or not doesn't make a difference, in my opinion. I would defend myself with whatever is at hand if someone is attacking me.

However, the sword guy didn't help stop the blood flow after the intruder was injured and obviously no longer a threat? That is cold, immoral, and worst, just plain rude.
posted by Peter Petridish at 10:38 AM on September 18, 2009 [16 favorites]


I'm sorry, but I fail to sympathize with the dead burglar. Burglary carries a lucrative risk premium, and for most burglars it pays off handsomely. However, sometimes you lose the lottery and one of those risks is that someone will get scared shitless and fucking kill you. This reality isn't going to change soon, nor should it.
posted by mullingitover at 10:38 AM on September 18, 2009 [107 favorites]


Are you joking?

Why would I be joking? The presence of mind to retaliate and make an accurate strike at an attacker is impressive.
posted by limited slip at 10:39 AM on September 18, 2009


If you're going to confront an intruder, the point is to kill him, regardless of the weapon you're using. I feel sorry for Pontolillo, though. If he had used a gun no one would be paying attention to this except the NRA.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 10:41 AM on September 18, 2009 [11 favorites]


Darkon Clan aint nothin to fuck wit.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 10:42 AM on September 18, 2009 [4 favorites]


@Librarygeek--I disagree. An intruder doesn't need to be armed to kill you. Sometimes his intent isn't to kill but he's put in a situation of panic or defense and he winds up killing you in a struggle.

Blunt force trauma (he could have found an object to bludgeon Pontolillo)
strangulation (he could have overpowered him and strangled him)
broken neck
stabbing him with an object and Pontolillo could have died

Sorry but no one has the right to come on to your property and commit any crime. The threat of violence and death by the criminal is always there. There are many crimes where a criminal broke in a house, raped a woman, and killed her with an object in the house (pantyhose for example).

Plus I doubt Pontolillo is jumping up and down bragging he killed someone. The experience will stay with him forever. The fan site? Tacky.

We have a shotgun and a 357 magnum at home. If someone breaks in our house it will be shoot and ask later.
posted by stormpooper at 10:42 AM on September 18, 2009 [26 favorites]


I don't know why the assumption is that he must have had some training in order to cut the guy. I don't think he was in some sort of Zen moment where, in the split second before the confrontation, he saw all possible outcomes of the battle and chose the most perfect blow to end the fight, like he's one of the Seven Samurai or something. Someone jumps at you, you get scared and swing at them in reaction. Pretty basic, really.

Librarygeek: I agree with you that deadly force was probably not warranted, but that's only a judgment we can make after the fact. In the moment, he doesn't know if this person is armed or not, if its a petty thief or Hannibal Lector. So, again, it's an instinctual reaction -- someone is coming at you, you swing at them. I do think it is pretty sad that the guy died, though. Being a criminal doesn't mean you should die. I wonder if the kid just ran off as soon as he hit the guy, or if he stayed and watched him die -- I would bet the former. He possibly could have saved the intruder's life, but he may have been freaking out. Plus, how long does it take to bleed out from a wound like that? I would imagine it's pretty quick.
posted by Saxon Kane at 10:42 AM on September 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


He may not have had the medical training needed to know to stop the blood loss and I would imagine he was pretty freaked out by what just happened.

The thing that would worry me about trying to defend myself with a sword is that you really can't just "hurt" someone with it (I guess without being very precise) If you just swing it at someone you're liable to kill them or at least gravely injure them.
posted by delmoi at 10:43 AM on September 18, 2009


mullingitover: I'm sorry, but I fail to sympathize with the dead burglar. Burglary carries a lucrative risk premium, and for most burglars it pays off handsomely. However, sometimes you lose the lottery and one of those risks is that someone will get scared shitless and fucking kill you. This reality isn't going to change soon, nor should it.

I don't think that this excuses the killing of someone, though. Burglary is, of course, wrong and awful, and it comes with acknowledged risks. But a criminal's foreknowledge of disproportionate penalties for his crimes does not mitigate the disproportionality of those penalties.
posted by shakespeherian at 10:44 AM on September 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


Previously.
posted by Astro Zombie at 10:44 AM on September 18, 2009


That is cold, immoral, and worst, just plain rude

But it makes good practical sense. Dead men can't contradict your story with one of their own, nor can they sue you for lifetime medical care, etc etc.

Add in fears of infection when dealing with the blood of an unknown criminal, and I suspect most people would have stayed at least a blade length away.
posted by nomisxid at 10:44 AM on September 18, 2009 [13 favorites]


Previously on MeFi Samurai Justice
posted by Dr-Baa at 10:44 AM on September 18, 2009


Ahh, Baltimore. Reading this made me nostalgic for my two years as a city resident. Living in Towson, just a few miles north of downtown, I had the pleasure of waking up three mornings in a row to find a car missing from a neighbor's driveway (and said neighbor running around freaking out about it in each case). The thieves were clearly cherry-picking nice cars, so my old car remained unmolested.

I also had the distinct pleasure of working at the Hopkins medical campus, which is best described as a sort of fortified complex in the midst of some of Baltimore's more blasted neighborhoods. On more than one occasion I had to sprint to my car to escape confrontations with threatening people as I walked back to it in the dark. I am glad things never escalated further, as my swordsmanship is somewhat lacking.
posted by killdevil at 10:45 AM on September 18, 2009


Rice [...] had 29 prior convictions for crimes such as breaking and entering

I chased some people out of my backyard as an undergraduate with a samurai sword my roommate owned. I was not a ninja. I'm kind of amused they would assume that he had any training. There are a lot of people with those cheap samurai swords with no more martial training than playing World of Warcraft.

If someone grabbed for the sword and you instinctively tried to bat their hand away, I can see that resulting in that kind of injury. Particularly if you were terrified and all hyped on adrenaline when you swung it.
posted by winna at 10:46 AM on September 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


If I catch you inside my home in the act of robbery, armed or not, I'm going to use everything at my disposal to fuck you up. If I was the ninja I'd have been more worried about the blood getting all over my garage floor than in "staunching the flow of blood" of a shitbag burglar. Bet no one ever robs that guy again.

Too bad he can't get a taxidermist to mount the burglar's hand so he could prominently mount it near the point of entry as a warning to the next slimeball.
posted by HyperBlue at 10:46 AM on September 18, 2009 [9 favorites]


Why would I be joking? The presence of mind to retaliate and make an accurate strike at an attacker is impressive.

From the articles, there's simply no indication that this was in any way an accurate strike. We don't know the details, but every report kind of sounds like the intruder rushed him and kind of fell on the sword. I don't think there's any skill involved in that.

It's not like he cut off both of his thumbs, and left his signature on the guy's cheek Zorro-style. This was more of a Simpson's "I'm just going to wave my sword back and forth in front of me, and walk forward, and if you get cut it's your fault" situation.
posted by graventy at 10:47 AM on September 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


That fan site reminds me of some of the email forwards I get in that it seems the text is always HUGE. Do such people believe that larger text is somehow more believable, or what? I don't get it.
posted by metagnathous at 10:49 AM on September 18, 2009


What you left out is that the intruder was unarmed,

Yup, when I see intruders in my home, I always make a point of asking them "Hello intruder, do you by any chance have a concealed weapon?" instead of not giving them time to use said concealed weapon. It's easy to come post facto and say "yeah, but he was unarmed", but if the guy was armed everyone would be raving about "haha! look how stupid he is, he had a sword ready and still gave the guy time to draw his gun and shoot him".
posted by qvantamon at 10:50 AM on September 18, 2009 [33 favorites]


If you're going to confront an intruder, the point is to kill him, regardless of the weapon you're using. I feel sorry for Pontolillo, though. If he had used a gun no one would be paying attention to this except the NRA.

Pretty much on the spot.

However, the sword guy didn't help stop the blood flow after the intruder was injured and obviously no longer a threat? That is cold, immoral, and worst, just plain rude.

Obviously, you've been in a situation where you've nearly cut an intruder's hand off to make such a snap judgment. Who knows what Pontolillo's mental state was after cutting the guy's hand off. According to the police in the Washington Post article, he was backed up into a corner by the burglar before he even attacked, and the Baltimore article indicates that the intruder lunged at him.

It'd be great if someone could pipe up with information on how fast it takes to bleed out from a nearly severed hand, but my guess is that Pontolillo was probably in a state of shock, rather than standing over the fellow and gloating about his impending death.
posted by Atreides at 10:50 AM on September 18, 2009 [4 favorites]


My freshman year roommate had a samurai sword, among other weapons. I'd sometimes come home to find him alone, in his underwear, lights out, waving his sword around his head in the middle of our room. He also did things like throw his broken printer out the second-story window, and light the hallway on fire. Anyway, I sort of expected this story to have been about him.

Also, that fan site seriously weirds me out.
posted by ORthey at 10:51 AM on September 18, 2009 [4 favorites]


If an intruder breaks into my home, attempts to steal my property, and then approaches me in a threatening manner, the threat will be stopped by any means necessary. Sword, gun, baseball bat, or even a hefty dog chew toy.

The only first aid I'll give them is calling 911 with one hand while my other holds the gun until the cops get there. If they wanted compassion they should have stayed out of my house.
posted by mrbill at 10:51 AM on September 18, 2009 [16 favorites]


Does the intruder 1) run away or 2) run at me to (presumably) attack me? Whether the intruder is armed or not doesn't make a difference, in my opinion. I would defend myself with whatever is at hand if someone is attacking me.

When you leave your house with a deadly weapon and then kill someone with it, you bear some responsibility for that person's death. Legally, you're generally not supposed to kill someone unless you reasonably fear for your own life. Personally I don't purposely set up situations where I even have an option of killing someone, even if that means that it is more likely that I myself will be physically assaulted or murdered, but that's just my personal choice and I don't expect others to do the same.
posted by burnmp3s at 10:52 AM on September 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


The answer is simple: we need more sword control.
posted by porn in the woods at 10:52 AM on September 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


Defense of Habitation - Deadly Force (MPJI-Cr 5:02)

Defense of one's home is a defense, and the defendant must be found not guilty if all of the following three factors are present:

* 1) The defendant actually believed that (victim) was committing the crime of (crime) in the defendant's home.
* 2) The defendant's belief was reasonable.
* 3) The defendant used no more force than was reasonably necessary to defend against the conduct of (victim).


Considering the intruder was unarmed, that last factor is going to be difficult to overcome. He'll need quite a sharp lawyer to disarm the jury. (Jesus, sorry)
posted by naju at 10:52 AM on September 18, 2009 [4 favorites]


> WTH coudn't he have staunched the blood?

Let's say someone enters my house at night and I wind up shooting him or hitting him in the head with a hammer or even cutting his hand off with a sword. The chances that I'm going to go anywhere near the guy after injuring him are fucking nil. What I will do after incapacitating the asshole is call 911 asap to report what just happened. When the police and/or ambulance show up, they can tend to his fucking wounds.
posted by Stonewall Jackson at 10:52 AM on September 18, 2009 [13 favorites]


i just knew that manos dude was going to get his hand cut off one way or another
posted by pyramid termite at 10:52 AM on September 18, 2009 [5 favorites]


I have a little checklist on a clipboard by the front door.

DEAR INTRUDER:

YOU ARE ARMED?

[ ] YES [ ] NO

YOU ARE CURRENTLY ARMED WITH:

[ ] GUN [ ] KNIFE [ ] BAT [ ] OTHER

IF OTHER, PLEASE DESCRIBE BELOW:
posted by winna at 10:52 AM on September 18, 2009 [28 favorites]


"WTH coudn't he have staunched the blood?"

The article says the cops heard the attack happening and came back. So if the cops couldn't staunch the blood, then no, I don't think he could either.
posted by y6y6y6 at 10:52 AM on September 18, 2009 [4 favorites]


Hold on, where are you guys getting that he just let the guy bleed to death?

According to one of the links

"After the officers left, Pontolillo retrieved the sword and decided to perform a more thorough search, including the garage and his car, Guglielmi said. The officers heard the screams during the encounter with Rice and rushed back to the scene, he said."

So the cops were within hearing distance when it happened. That's like 30 seconds run, right?
So within a minute tops, police officers trained in 1st aid were there.
posted by atrazine at 10:52 AM on September 18, 2009 [7 favorites]


Oh jesus. Maybe he was just so freaked out about having CUT OFF THIS GUY'S HAND that he didn't really have the wherewithal to bind his wounds. I wouldn't call him a badass at all, he was probably just as scared as his victim was when they saw each other in the garage.
posted by Scotty_D at 10:53 AM on September 18, 2009 [3 favorites]


Or, what mrbill said.
posted by Stonewall Jackson at 10:53 AM on September 18, 2009


That fan site reminds me of some of the email forwards I get in that it seems the text is always HUGE. Do such people believe that larger text is somehow more believable, or what? I don't get it.

It seems to me that the site is an homage/ripoff of the style of maddox of "the best page in the universe" fame.
posted by davey_darling at 10:56 AM on September 18, 2009


It's not like he cut off both of his thumbs, and left his signature on the guy's cheek Zorro-style. This was more of a Simpson's "I'm just going to wave my sword back and forth in front of me, and walk forward, and if you get cut it's your fault" situation.

Accurate or not, good for him for protecting himself. What I mean when I say impressive, is his usage of a sword, a very close range weapon, when most other burglars are packing a gun.
posted by limited slip at 10:56 AM on September 18, 2009


Ok, y'all have a point that the kid wouldn't neccessarily know that the intruder was unarmed. But -- if a cop had shot an unarmed intruder we'd be up in arms. Is the difference the fact that they are supposed to be trained to deal with criminals and a civilian is just reacting?
And -- I believe in self defense, but where is the line between that and vigilante justice? I know that is one of the points that came up in a couple of interviews with police and school administrators. They were emphasizing if you hear something, call 911 don't go try to take care of it yourself. It occurs to me, I have no idea if the garage was attached to the home. (FWIW my garage is seperate and sits back ffrom the house.)
posted by Librarygeek at 10:57 AM on September 18, 2009


If I catch you inside my home in the act of robbery attempting to harm me, armed or not, I'm going to use everything at my disposal to fuck you up.

This.
posted by killdevil at 10:57 AM on September 18, 2009 [3 favorites]


"Considering the intruder was unarmed, that last factor is going to be difficult to overcome. He'll need quite a sharp lawyer to disarm the jury."

The robber had live a significant percentage of his life in prison with violent criminals. He made his living breaking into homes and robbing people. In his police photo he doesn't look like a small helpless individual. I doubt any lawyer would have any trouble over coming the "unarmed" thing.
posted by y6y6y6 at 10:58 AM on September 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


Also, swords are not for decoration, swords will fucking cut you wide open (don't miss the whole series, it's like 5 episodes)
posted by qvantamon at 10:58 AM on September 18, 2009 [9 favorites]


I love living in Baltimore. There are so many ways to die.
posted by HumanComplex at 10:58 AM on September 18, 2009 [7 favorites]


So, killdevil, how exactly do you read the minds of home intruders enabling yourself to divine their intent? Inquiring minds wanna know.
posted by HyperBlue at 11:00 AM on September 18, 2009


..so do my sleeping wife and young children.
posted by HyperBlue at 11:02 AM on September 18, 2009


Ok, y'all have a point that the kid wouldn't neccessarily know that the intruder was unarmed. But -- if a cop had shot an unarmed intruder we'd be up in arms. Is the difference the fact that they are supposed to be trained to deal with criminals and a civilian is just reacting?
And -- I believe in self defense, but where is the line between that and vigilante justice? I know that is one of the points that came up in a couple of interviews with police and school administrators. They were emphasizing if you hear something, call 911 don't go try to take care of it yourself. It occurs to me, I have no idea if the garage was attached to the home. (FWIW my garage is seperate and sits back ffrom the house.)


It would be different if it was a cop, for exactly that reason. Police officers are trained to react to these situations.

The line between vigilante justice would have been crossed if the kid chased the guy with sword and killed him. That is, vigilante justice is inflicting punishment rather than self defense.
posted by atrazine at 11:02 AM on September 18, 2009 [7 favorites]


Later stories are suggesting that the "intruder" hadn't broken and entered anywhere or anything; he was simply on the sword-wielder's property. And the sword dude trapped him, refusing to allow him an exit, and sent his friend to call the cops.

At that point, it appears the unarmed trespasser tried to run for it, and Katana Man killed him.

If that's indeed how it played out, I hope Katana Dude goes to jail for a long, long time.
posted by Malor at 11:02 AM on September 18, 2009 [3 favorites]


Burglars know the risks when they decide to rob houses for a living, one of which is the homeowner taking your life. There are many things I dislike about residing in the US state of Georgia, but Castle Doctrine certainly isn't one of them.
posted by Scoo at 11:03 AM on September 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


I aumme everybody wants to kill me at all times. That's why I carry this chainsaw.
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:04 AM on September 18, 2009 [7 favorites]


Great, now Obama will come and get [our] samurai swords too.

Too late!
posted by EarBucket at 11:04 AM on September 18, 2009


A. There is no need to use deadly force on an unarmed intruder B. WTH coudn't he have staunched the blood?

If the student's story is accurate (the police seem to have satisfied themselves that it is sufficiently accurate), the intruder backed the student into a wall and then lunged at him. And the student was in his own home. At that point, use of force is justified, therefore use of unintentionally-deadly force is also justified, because student is not a police officer or professional super-hero, highly trained to dish out damage in a measured doses that can incapacitate without risk of greater injury, highly experienced at kicking ass in discreet quantitative amounts. Student is in his own home, being attacked, way out of his depth, and doing whatever it takes to stop it.

Student was also carrying a weapon, so, given the intruder's aggression, it was prudent to use the weapon rather than to risk let the intruder's tackle succeed in taking the weapon and become an armed and aggressive intruder.

As to [B] (Staunching the blood), it sounds like police were called immediately, so I assume the bleeding out was simply rapid. If I was going to give assistance to someone who attacked me and who (without 20/20 hindsight) might still be dangerous, I wouldn't do it alone, and I'd probably need some minutes to recover my nerves. It sounds like in this situation, I wouldn't be able to save the guy.

I think it's unfortunate and unfair that an unarmed intruder ended up dead, but I don't fault the student for it, and I do fault the intruder. That's the nature of home invasion. The onus is on people not to invade homes, and if you do and you encounter a resident, the onus is to assure their safety (such as fleeing) rather than to corner and attack them.
posted by -harlequin- at 11:05 AM on September 18, 2009 [6 favorites]


I thought display swords were generally shitty and dull. Maybe just the ones I've looked at?
posted by ODiV at 11:06 AM on September 18, 2009


I'm leery of the I-need-a-gun-for-self-defence thinking, because it seems that statistically, in most demographics (ie the non-drug-dealer population :-)), a pistol brings with it a higher chance of harmful accident than it does of protection or harm-reduction.

But a sword... maybe the stats would swing (sorry) the other way?

I really have no idea.
posted by -harlequin- at 11:06 AM on September 18, 2009


More details
posted by HyperBlue at 11:06 AM on September 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


It is not your responsibility to perform medical life saving first aid on anybody, ever. If you are trained (and currently licensed) to do so you may attempt it, but if you attempt it when untrained the legal consequences may be substantial.

As an example of why this is a good law, would you really want someone not trained in CPR to attempt it, based on what they'd seen on TV?
posted by scrutiny at 11:06 AM on September 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


On the other end of the spectrum...in my little community: a very drunk college student walks home from the bar and tries to enter the wrong house (two houses down from his). The occupant of the house is sleeping, apparently gets frightened and grabs the loaded handgun in his bed-side dresser. The story ends with a honor-roll band student dead with a hole in his chest. Sometimes the maverick "shoot first, ask questions later" method has the regrettable consequences you might imagine. In my opinion, it is much more brave to handle the situation -without- killing the criminal.
posted by limmer at 11:08 AM on September 18, 2009 [11 favorites]


Former Baltimoron here, veteran of 13 long years on the east side of town and unable to summon up much sympathy for the burglar although frankly the whole thing sounds like a horrible accident: fucked up burglar looking for anything that isn't nailed down + freaked out kid with sword = bad outcome for all. Baltimore can be like a war zone sometimes.
posted by mygothlaundry at 11:09 AM on September 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


I'm leery of the I-need-a-gun-for-self-defence thinking, because it seems that statistically, in most demographics (ie the non-drug-dealer population :-)), a pistol brings with it a higher chance of harmful accident than it does of protection or harm-reduction.

[citation needed]
posted by Scoo at 11:10 AM on September 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


On one hand I can understand where with the posters saying he should have done something to help are coming from. On the other hand though, I really can't imagine too many scenarios where that's a viable option. In order to offer help, all of the following must be true:
1) Pontotillo would have to be not freaking out
2) Pontotillo would have to be able to recognize the robber was in need of immediate life saving measures
3) Pontotillo would have to know what measures were needed
4) The robber would need to be incapacitated, either unconscious or completely subdued
5) Pontotillo would have to believe that the incapacitation was not a trick
6) If the supplies needed were not immediately available, Pontotillo would have to be capable of letting the robber out of his sight.
7) Pontotillo may have thought the robber was already dead

There may be others, but the point is that it's not just a simply a matter of helping another person. Both the intent and the means would need to be present. The intent could be lacking, not because of callousness, but because or mental shock, and the means could be lacking for a whole host of reasons.

So I think it's a bit premature to jump to assumptions about the nature of Pontatillo's character, other than he had a sword and was willing to carry it to a confrontation to protect his property.
posted by forforf at 11:11 AM on September 18, 2009 [3 favorites]


Hours earlier, someone had broken into John Pontolillo's home and taken two laptops and a video-game console. Now it was past midnight, and Pontolillo heard noises coming from the garage out back.

This is key. I don't know if this was an attached garage or not, but it sounds like Pontolillo's life wasn't in danger at this point. He could have left out the front door and called the cops. But he grabbed his sword and went after the intruder. This was not self defence.
posted by rocket88 at 11:11 AM on September 18, 2009 [4 favorites]


"Considering the intruder was unarmed, that last factor is going to be difficult to overcome. He'll need quite a sharp lawyer to disarm the jury."

An important legal point, his lawyer doesn't need to overcome anything. The prosecution has to prove that he used more force that was necessary, beyond a reasonable doubt. The question of how much force is reasonable in this situation is a tricky one, but I'd say that this very conversation show that you can't prove that what he did was unreasonable, beyond a reasonable doubt.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 11:11 AM on September 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


He called the cops, the cops came and apparently didn't do a thorough search. He heard noises again and picked up his sword because he was scared (don't blame him there; when I was a teenage and heard noises when I was alone in the home, my first thought was to go in the kitchen and get a knife. No idea what I would do with it).

And of course he didn't go over to the burglar and try to stop the bleeding. Haven't you ever seen a horror movie?! You go in that dark room and attack the bad guy and FIVE MINUTES LATER HE JUMPS UP TOTALLY WHOLE AGAIN AND KILLS YOU, PEOPLE!
posted by misha at 11:13 AM on September 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


While I think it's reasonable in any situation to defend yourself from violent attack, there does seem to be a uniquely American take on these things.

Whereas in most of the world, taking a life in any circumstance, justified or otherwise, is talked about as something pretty damn sad, a tragic situation for both participants, Americans seem to focus their discussion on whether person A was justified in the way that the killed person B with weapon C in situation D. In reality, the heat of the moment is not a time when such judgements are made. Killing is bloody, sickening and brutal. There's nothing to celebrate or defend. The discussion shouldn't just be about justifying your paranoia about people taking your precious stuff.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 11:13 AM on September 18, 2009 [19 favorites]


would you really want someone not trained in CPR to attempt it, based on what they'd seen on TV?

If my heart has already stopped, yes.
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:13 AM on September 18, 2009 [6 favorites]


This is key. I don't know if this was an attached garage or not, but it sounds like Pontolillo's life wasn't in danger at this point. He could have left out the front door and called the cops. But he grabbed his sword and went after the intruder. This was not self defence.

To me it read like he grabbed his sword and went to see what the noise was. Could've been raccoons or a friend or whatever. I wouldn't assume anyone would stick around a robbery for that long. Then again, I might be too shaken to go look myself. Who knows.
posted by ODiV at 11:15 AM on September 18, 2009


Another Baltimore native here. This is purely anecdotal evidence, but I've been robbed a few times, each time on the street. A couple times it was at gun point, so that was a quick, almost polite exchange - he showed me a gun, and handed him my money, he ran away, I went home and got drunk. An armed robber always shows you his gun - they are not interested in things taking longer than they need to. They want to get what they want and get away from you as fast as possible. But a couple times I had guys attempt to rob me through brute force. On both occasions this pissed me off so badly. You get robbed downtown, it happens, but there's something so degrading about it; something even more so that someone has decided you don't even warrant the use of a weapon to be robbed. It made me so angry that I fought back - I'm 5'7" and 135 lbs soaking wet, yet fighting back, this big guy said out loud, "Fuck this" and ran.

One of the clearer qualities of a robbery is you want to be out of there as fast as possible. I find it really, really difficult to believe that dude broke into a garage, some guy came out of the darkness with a samurai sword and the burglar thought, "Hell yes, I'm gonna mess this guy up!", cornering the swordsman, only to get mortally wounded himself. What probably happened is the swordsman, already having been robbed once before and about to be robbed again, just snapped, and attacked the guy.

Of course this his word, without witnesses, against a dead man's, but what I do know is a) armed robbers show you the weapon; it's why they bring a weapon - they don't want a struggle, and b) they don't stick around to engage in hand-to-hand with you. Or in this case, hand-to-sword.

Again, this is all anecdotal speculation on my part, but nearly everything about this story goes against my experience with being robbed in Baltimore.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 11:15 AM on September 18, 2009 [19 favorites]


Wait -- you're a guy?
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:17 AM on September 18, 2009 [7 favorites]


So, was the killer justified in killing this man because a) the man took his property; b) the man was on his property; or c) the man was threatening his personal safety?

I'm guessing the answer is c), which makes it morally indefensible if the killer actually initiated the confrontation.
posted by Sova at 11:17 AM on September 18, 2009


If HyperBlue's "More Details" link is correct, I'll amend my "This was not self defence" comment to "This was murder".
posted by rocket88 at 11:18 AM on September 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


>I thought display swords were generally shitty and dull. Maybe just the ones I've looked at?

Not all of them are, but even a dull sword can inflict a lot of damage. Think of the amount of leverage you're getting from an overhead strike. (This one appears to be rather sharp, however.)
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 11:18 AM on September 18, 2009


It is not your responsibility to perform medical life saving first aid on anybody, ever. If you are trained (and currently licensed) to do so you may attempt it, but if you attempt it when untrained the legal consequences may be substantial.

In quite a few countries (generally of the civil law variety) there is a Duty to rescue, as well as 8 States.

As fair as Good Samaritan laws & their applicability to untrained people - that depends on where you live. From Ontario:
...voluntarily and without reasonable expectation of compensation or reward provides the services described in that subsection is not liable for damages that result from the person's negligence in acting or failing to act while providing the services, unless it is established that the damages were caused by the gross negligence of the person.
Gross negligence is different than negligence.
posted by Lemurrhea at 11:20 AM on September 18, 2009


Wow, sorry about all the grammar errors in my previous post. I'm a little jittery remembering being robbed at gunpoint for the first time, by a 12-year-old. That was fun.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 11:21 AM on September 18, 2009


I don't know if this was an attached garage or not, but it sounds like Pontolillo's life wasn't in danger at this point.

It was not. The incident happened in the back yard. From the first article:

By Tuesday afternoon, two pools of blood remained on the ground a few feet away from the door to the garage, which is not connected to the home.

From the More Details article:

One of the students armed himself with a sword when he and his roommates decided to conduct a more thorough search, and police say that’s when he spotted the intruder beneath his deck in the back yard.

So he left his home with the sword, found the intruder underneath his deck, and then the confrontation happened.
posted by burnmp3s at 11:22 AM on September 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


If HyperBlue's "More Details" link is correct...

Yeah, just read that now. If the samurai went looking for the guy and found him hiding under the deck, that's an entirely different story.
posted by ODiV at 11:23 AM on September 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


B. WTH coudn't he have staunched the blood?

Beyond y6y6y6's simple explanation, if somebody's so destitute that they think it will be worthwhile to break into my house to steal my meager possessions, there's no way it's a good idea to come into contact with their blood.
posted by Mayor Curley at 11:23 AM on September 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


>Another Baltimore native here. This is purely anecdotal evidence, but I've been robbed a few times, each time on the street. A couple times it was at gun point, so that was a quick, almost polite exchange.

Baltimore, Maryland? Or Ireland?

In Maryland, the usual procedure is to fuck with you, and TELL you they have a gun if you start to resist. They know the law better than you do.

Not sure what it's like in Ireland.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 11:24 AM on September 18, 2009


Oops, if that second report is accurate, this kid is a hyperagressive moron who killed a weird homeless dude he found under his deck while making a citizens arrest. I say we send him where he can't harm anyone else--> ie back to the Jersey Shore.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 11:24 AM on September 18, 2009


If the samurai went looking for the guy and found him hiding under the deck, that's an entirely different story.

You're just trying to get us to go see that Ninja Assassin movie, aren't you?
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:25 AM on September 18, 2009


Burglar had it coming, as far as I'm concerned. If I find a stranger in my home, I'm gonna do what I can to disable or kill them with whatever means I have handy. I'd rather find out after the burglar's dead that he was unarmed than find out as that he was armed as I'm dying. If I disable someone and they're gushing blood and screaming, I'll kick them a roll of paper towels while I call 911. I'm not performing any kind of first aid on anyone who breaks into my home. That's kind of the agreement I have with society: people don't break into my house and they won't need first aid because of me. And the converse is as true as I can make it.
posted by jamstigator at 11:26 AM on September 18, 2009 [6 favorites]


It seems the Baltimore Police Department Budget...

*dons sunglasses*

... isn't the only thing being slashed
posted by Scoo at 11:27 AM on September 18, 2009 [26 favorites]


Burglar had it coming, as far as I'm concerned. If I find a stranger in my home, I'm gonna do what I can to disable or kill them with whatever means I have handy.

Will you please stop celebrating the act of killing people? It's revolting.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 11:29 AM on September 18, 2009 [28 favorites]


The only first aid I'll give them is calling 911 with one hand while my other holds the gun until the cops get there. If they wanted compassion they should have stayed out of my house. mrbill

What I will do after incapacitating the asshole is call 911 asap to report what just happened. When the police and/or ambulance show up, they can tend to his fucking wounds. Stonewall Jackson

Really? So if he's bleeding profusely, you'll just watch him wither away, counting the minutes until irreversible damage is done to his brain?

Christ, it's not like this hypothetical burglar has broken ankle or something. You're talking about shooting him or stabbing him with a sword or cracking his skull open with a hammer. If I did any of those things to somebody, assuming he wasn't already dead I'd be pretty damned worried for him, and would do what I could to make sure he didn't die. For God's sake, no TV is worth a man's life.
posted by Commander Rachek at 11:30 AM on September 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


Eponhysterical near miss there, le morte
posted by Scoo at 11:32 AM on September 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


I rescind my support for the guy too if it ends up he went looking for a burglar and then trapped him. My assertions upthread are based solely upon the burglar (armed or not) entering my domicile.
posted by HyperBlue at 11:32 AM on September 18, 2009


Eponhysterical near miss there, le morte

I prefer the phrase "nicely side-stepped, my good man..."
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 11:34 AM on September 18, 2009


Librarygeek: "WTH coudn't he have staunched the blood?"

Is this the right place to say that "stanch" would have been more appropriate here?
probably not
</People for the Ethical Treatment of Endangered Words>

"The other issue is that stuff like this encourages vigilante behavior."

I would argue instead that it discourages burglary.

Librarygeek: "But -- if a cop had shot an unarmed intruder we'd be up in arms. Is the difference the fact that they are supposed to be trained to deal with criminals and a civilian is just reacting?"

Apples and oranges. Police officers are given the right to carry lethal weapons on them at all times, in everyday circumstances, and as a result they have to agree to receive extraordinary training and use extraordinary care and follow extraordinary rules. Identifying oneself as an armed officer and taking pains to figure out whether a civilian is armed and dangerous before discharging a weapon is part of that deal.

A college kid who is in fear for his life and property and has a right under American laws to defend his life and property, OTOH, did not enter any agreement to follow by extraordinary rules, and the burglar who broke into his private home doesn't deserve any extraordinary care -- certainly not equivalent to that which would be required if police were involved.

I'm not for or against Katana Dude, here. I just wanted to speak to the broader implication that something must clearly be wrong, in a scenario where self-defense against a criminal in one's own home has any outcome other than everyone walks away healthy and happy and chuckling.

le morte de bea arthur: Did you mean here in this MetaFilter thread, or overall? There is a pretty big leap between the ideas that "taking a life in any circumstance, justified or otherwise, is talked about as something pretty damn sad, a tragic situation for both participants..." and "The discussion shouldn't just be about justifying your paranoia about people taking your precious stuff." Should we have all expressed an appropriate level of remorse and grief for the dead intruder before discussing the legalities and motivations of the parties in the incident?

In re: "Americans seem to focus their discussion on whether person A was justified in the way that the killed person B with weapon C in situation D. In reality, the heat of the moment is not a time when such judgements are made. Killing is bloody, sickening and brutal. There's nothing to celebrate or defend."

I mean, yes, the whole guns/defending your property/self-defense stuff is uniquely American. So? Guilty as charged? That doesn't make us all bloodthirsty hooligans out looking for justifiable reasons to kill one another. This is part of our Constitution, but also part of our history and social fabric. Less than 200 years ago, using a weapon to prevent someone from stealing your horse or your meat or your wife was the only way to get through the week.

Of course we have advanced and that is no longer the prevalent situation... but knocking Americans for the fact that the conversation about a dead intruder will inevitably turn to whether it was self defense, seems to willfully ignore the fact that our very young legal system was borne of frontier justice.

Some countries are in fact different from others.
posted by pineapple at 11:36 AM on September 18, 2009 [12 favorites]


In Maryland, the usual procedure is to fuck with you, and TELL you they have a gun if you start to resist. They know the law better than you do.

Here's what has happened, in my experience:

1) Man approaches you.

2) Man lifts shirt to show gun tucked into his pants and says, "Give it up."

3) You hand over your wallet, he runs.

Someone "fucking with me" has always been someone looking for a fight or trying to rob me through brute force. Because they don't have a weapon.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 11:37 AM on September 18, 2009


>>I'm leery of the I-need-a-gun-for-self-defence thinking, because it seems that statistically, in most demographics (ie the non-drug-dealer population :-)), a pistol brings with it a higher chance of harmful accident than it does of protection or harm-reduction.

Scoo: [citation needed]


Kellermann AL, Rivara FP, Rushforth NB, et al. Gun ownership as a risk factor for homicide in the home. N Engl J Med 1993;329(15):1084-1091.

Incidence of home invasion is smaller than the increased mortality resulting from domestic disputes, kids finding the gun, etc between households with and without pistols, therefore the protection (harm reduction) from home invasion that a pistol offers that home is likewise smaller than the increased mortality it brings.

But obviously, it's going to depend on your demographic. For my demographic, a gun makes less than no sense, statistically.

I'm not sure if that's going to be enough to stop me getting one. But if I do get one, it won't be under the deluded thinking that it makes me safer :-)
posted by -harlequin- at 11:37 AM on September 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


A lot of Americans talk about getting away with taking a life because they were on your property in the same way as winning the lottery.
posted by Space Coyote at 11:39 AM on September 18, 2009 [26 favorites]


It'd be great if someone could pipe up with information on how fast it takes to bleed out from a nearly severed hand, but my guess is that Pontolillo was probably in a state of shock, rather than standing over the fellow and gloating about his impending death.

Seconded.

Four years ago one of my friends had an overdose, which caused a seizure, which caused him to fall over and bang his head, which caused him to stop breathing. He turned blue. I stood there. That's all I could manage. There was some small part of my mind that knew that I should be doing something to help him, but it was being shouted down by the part that was saying holyshitholyshitholyshitholyshitholyshitholyshitholyshit. That Red Cross training in which I annually get certified? Totally useless, because I didn't have a level enough head.

This was my closest friend in the entire world, someone that had never done me harm or given me reason to hate him, and I would have let him die, because I my mind shut down and needed time to reboot when presented. Fortunately, calmer heads prevailed. Someone else at the party gave him mouth-to-mouth, and the host called 911.

I got very lucky. I got lucky because my friend is alive today. I got lucky because I'm the one presenting my story, instead of it coming through a news outlet, because if someone else was telling the story I'm sure that there would be a bunch of dudes on MetaFilter talking about what an uncaring, ice cold motherfucker I must have been to just watch a dude die like that.
posted by Parasite Unseen at 11:39 AM on September 18, 2009 [29 favorites]


An important legal point, his lawyer doesn't need to overcome anything. The prosecution has to prove that he used more force that was necessary, beyond a reasonable doubt.

Are you a lawyer? 'Cause self-defense is, so far as I am aware, an affirmative defense. That means the prosecution doesn't have to prove anything. The defendant has to prove he had a reasonable belief that killing the guy was necessary.

So think you are, to use technical legal terminology, "wrong".
posted by Justinian at 11:40 AM on September 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


You're talking about shooting him or stabbing him with a sword or cracking his skull open with a hammer. If I did any of those things to somebody, assuming he wasn't already dead I'd be pretty damned worried for him, and would do what I could to make sure he didn't die.

My concern for them as a fellow human being ended the moment they decided to enter my property and become a threat to myself and/or my family. My only response will be to stop the threat and call the authorities (in that order).
posted by mrbill at 11:41 AM on September 18, 2009 [4 favorites]


My Grandmother's neighbor had a break in one night.

They discoved the robbers when they started beating this guy's wife in the head with a shovel, while they slept in their bed. It was a shovel they got from the neighbor's garage. The neighbor fought back with a bedside lamp, and later a pushbroom, eventually chasing them off. My grandmother now sleeps with a mossberg by her bed, because she really doesn't need to physically fight off an intruder, especially this soon after her knee replacement.

One also must consider what the indruder could be on when they are breaking in. I know another friend of mine in the same area caught some people breaking into his shop stealing his tools. The intruders physically attacked him, and he responded with a jack-stand*. He hit them in the head three or four times to no effect. My friend's sister jumped into the fray with a pry-bar and the burglars ran off.

Unless this kid screamed "There can be only one!" or "I am Godzilla! You are Japan!" before he dispenced with this fine upstanding citizen he doesn't need to do any time. I'm sure living with the images in his head, and the smells is punishment enough.

*jack stand
posted by The Power Nap at 11:42 AM on September 18, 2009 [3 favorites]


Thanks for the cite. Me, I'm in the "It's either locked up or in my pocket" demographic.
posted by Scoo at 11:42 AM on September 18, 2009


If my heart has already stopped, yes.

Absolutely not. If your heart has stopped and someone who hasn't been trained in CPR tries to restart it, odds are their going to do far more damage and will likely kill you faster. There are tons of things that can be done wrong with CPR. Even if you do it right, you're probably going to break a few ribs. There is a rhythm that involves simultaneously putting air into the lungs and artificially beating the heart and if someone hasn't been trained in how to do it they will fuck it up and make things worse than they already were. If you don't know how to do CPR, then call 9-1-1, or find someone else who can do not attempt it on your own. EVER.
posted by scrutiny at 11:43 AM on September 18, 2009 [6 favorites]


Wait -- you're a guy?
posted by Astro Zombie at 1:17 PM on September 18 [+] [!]


yeah but at 5'7" and 135 lb, he's a little guy.
posted by lester at 11:43 AM on September 18, 2009


> For God's sake, no TV is worth a man's life.

Agreed. That's why you shouldn't risk your life breaking into other peoples' houses. That said, as other people have pointed out, how do you know this complete stranger is only there to take your TV? And how confident would you be that this complete stranger, who you just shot/hit in the head/stabbed, would be happy to receive your assistance and would just sit there as you applied a touriquet or performed CPR. Many people, even if their judgement wasn't potentially impaired by shock and blood loss, might be quite angry that you had injured them.
posted by Stonewall Jackson at 11:45 AM on September 18, 2009 [6 favorites]


This happened a few blocks from my house, making it the second metafilter-recognized event in my neighborhood in one week (that's got to be some sort of record, right?).

Our neighborhood, Charles Village, is a fairly middle class, diverse neighborhood (pdf), with poorer areas on the east and west and an extremely wealthy neighborhood to the north. We've got some crime, mostly petty theft, very occasional muggings or armed robberies, but all in all, not a bad neighborhood. Hopkins dominates the neighborhood, and a significant percentage of the housing is for student rentals. A lot of the crime involves students, because they have expensive electronics like laptops and Playstations and don't tend to lock their doors or take their GPS out of their car.

Most people in the neighborhood have had stuff stolen out of their backyards (I'm down two bags of mulch, a smokey joe grill and one 1996 Honda Accord) and a lot have had their houses broken into. I haven't, but my neighbors have. It makes you angry and scared and suspicious and you want to do something about it. For some, that means moving out of the neighborhood. Others accept it as a risk of city living, but no one is happy about it.

So, the facts seem to be:

1. Pontolillo's (unlocked) house got robbed, was not reported until Hopkins security stopped by to notify them that there was a suspicious person in the area.
2. Pontolillo and his roommates go outside with the sword to patrol the yard and check things out, don't find anything.
3. Later on, again with the sword, Pontolillo goes back outside, finds Donald Rice hiding in his backyard, tells him to freeze and yells for his roommates to call the police.
4. Pontolillo claims that Rice charged him, Pontolillo cuts him and Rice dies from a severed jugular and hand.

The reaction around here has been mixed, comments on The Sun's website aside. It's generally held that Sun comments are like YouTube comments, mostly written by crazy racists with very little actual information. You'll find a lot of references to "savages" and "those people" if you can stomach reading them.

That said, a lot of people side with Pontolillo, but I'm finding the enthusiasm for it pretty disappointing. I'm just unable to see how any good comes out of this. It's true that Rice was a career criminal, there's no doubt about that. He's been arrested at least a dozen times for burglary and assault and was very likely trying to steal when he was killed. Pontolillo almost certainly didn't go outside to kill Donald Rice, but he took the right tools with him. Certainly a lot of bad decisions on both sides of the equation, but we're left with a dead guy who was also from the neighborhood and a kid who has to live with the fact that he killed someone in a pretty horrible manner.
posted by electroboy at 11:46 AM on September 18, 2009 [14 favorites]


A lot of Americans talk about getting away with taking a life because they were on your property in the same way as winning the lottery.

This may be due to the cultural frustration involved in the systematic failure of our socio/economo/justice system. Dead guy had 29 priors? Assuming a 1 out of 10 catch rate, that's around 300 property crimes. I'm not happy about this guy's death, but I'm not sad, either. What we got here isn't working.
posted by Palamedes at 11:47 AM on September 18, 2009 [4 favorites]


>Here's what has happened, in my experience...

You've been lucky enough to encounter pros. The amatuers, they're just out to fuck with you. But they'll bring a weapon for backup.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 11:48 AM on September 18, 2009


And I say all of this as a) a non-American, and b) a guy who is in favour of gun control and thinks it's generally a bad idea to own a handgun. The bottom line is, if someone I don't know is in my house and I feel like I or my family are in any imminent danger, all bets are off. I won't enjoy it or feel good about it afterward, but I'm certainly not going to feel bad if the person who broke into my house is injured or killed as a result of my actions.
posted by Stonewall Jackson at 11:49 AM on September 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


Pontolillo's legal defense team: "Okay, every time the other side tries to make a gross emotional appeal about the victim being unarmed..."

Pontolillo: "Yeah?"

Pontolillo's legal defense team: "...just stifle a small laugh and answer honestly."
posted by Avelwood at 11:49 AM on September 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


pineapple: Less than 200 years ago, using a weapon to prevent someone from stealing your horse or your meat or your wife was the only way to get through the week.

Which of course is equally applicable now, Because a Macbook is a kind of apple?

My point is not about Americans' right to bear arms. I know enough not to challenge that, because it's not something that ever leads to a rational debate. What saddens me is how American culture commoditises human life and celebrates the taking of life (provided it's technically within the law). Someone broke into your house and took your laptop? Well then, they deserve to die a bloody and painful death, because two hundred years ago some settler might have lost his buffalo jerky in a similar situation.

Some people are less human than others is more like it. Show some fucking compassion.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 11:51 AM on September 18, 2009 [13 favorites]


Wow, the tough guy squad is certainly out in force this morning.

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."


The Baltimore Sun article is, shock of shocks, rather poorly written. It sounds like he approached the garage and a man "lunged" out, trying to escape. Then we have "backed up against a corner," whatever that means. There's no information on if he entered the garage or not.
posted by drjimmy11 at 11:55 AM on September 18, 2009


Absolutely not. If your heart has stopped and someone who hasn't been trained in CPR tries to restart it, odds are their going to do far more damage and will likely kill you faster.

The function of CPR isn't to restart the heart, but to keep a flow of oxygenated blood to the brain and the heart, delaying tissue death. Once your heart stops, you have about six minutes to start CPR before permanent brainc ell damage occurs. Even if people know what they're doing, there's only about a 15 percent chance of CPR working, and only about 5-10 percent of people who receive CPR actually survive without additional defibrulation. Additionally, people who have been trained in CPR do it incorrectly an alarming percentage of the time. So I'm just going to go with -- if my heart has stopped, go ahead and pound on it.
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:55 AM on September 18, 2009 [3 favorites]


>Someone broke into your house and took your laptop? Well then, they deserve to die a bloody and painful death, because two hundred years ago some settler might have lost his buffalo jerky in a similar situation.

What? No, that's not how it works. I don't get to track down the guy and kill him after he takes my Macbook (However I might wish...) He breaks into my house. I use whatever means I have to incapacitate him. Then I call the authorities to take care of him/his remains.

What I don't get is why that's so hard to understand. I tend to picture burglars in other countries getting gifted with umbrellas so they don't catch cold on the way home.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 11:58 AM on September 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


I read somewhere that police believe cat burglars to be more dangerous than your ordinary 'steal crap outta your garage' burglars. These don't care if someone's home when they break in because if they are, then they will be shot or beat with a shovel as in the comment above or whatever.

I don't know enough about this sword story to have an opinion, but a cat burglar with 29 priors? Good luck with that one, counselor.
posted by Tacodog at 11:59 AM on September 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


Absolutely not. If your heart has stopped and someone who hasn't been trained in CPR tries to restart it, odds are their going to do far more damage and will likely kill you faster. There are tons of things that can be done wrong with CPR. Even if you do it right, you're probably going to break a few ribs. There is a rhythm that involves simultaneously putting air into the lungs and artificially beating the heart and if someone hasn't been trained in how to do it they will fuck it up and make things worse than they already were. If you don't know how to do CPR, then call 9-1-1, or find someone else who can do not attempt it on your own. EVER.

If someone's heart has stopped, you have about three minutes to get blood moving to the brain before neurons start dying. Morbidity increases by about 15% a minute, and you want to wait for the paramedics? I'll take my chances with a couple of broken ribs, thanks.
posted by Mayor West at 12:00 PM on September 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


Ditto Astro Zombie and Mayor West's CPR recommendations. Last I heard they've even dropped the whole breathing thing. You just want to keep the blood moving. Your ribs are the least of your problems.

Although, you can't get sued if you do nothing. So there's that to consider.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 12:03 PM on September 18, 2009


Are you a lawyer? 'Cause self-defense is, so far as I am aware, an affirmative defense. That means the prosecution doesn't have to prove anything. The defendant has to prove he had a reasonable belief that killing the guy was necessary.

So think you are, to use technical legal terminology, "wrong".


Actually, I will be a lawyer(pending bar results in November) and I'm not wrong. Self Defense is an affirmative defense, sure, which means that the defendant must make a showing sufficient to raise the affirmative defense(note, raise, not prove). Once that showing has been made, however, the State still must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant is not entitled to the defense. This is from New York State, but I couldn't find the Maryland Pattern Criminal Jury Instructions online. It spells it out pretty clear:

"The defendant, however, is not required to prove that he was justified.
The People are required to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that
the defendant was not justified."

Whether or not the "showing" I mentioned earlier is met is an issue for the judge to decide when he's picking what jury instructions to give.

So, actually, to use technical legal terminology, I am "right," asshole.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 12:04 PM on September 18, 2009 [18 favorites]


le morte de bea arthur: "Some people are less human than others is more like it. Show some fucking compassion."

Taking my comment about the pioneer origin of the American legal system and twisting it completely up for shock value and favorite-baiting is far beneath the quality of discussion you usually contribute here, so I will just assume that for whatever reason, you're emotionally too close to this to be able to rationally consider the broader sociological factor that I wanted to throw on the table, in light of your "Americans are all disgusting callous assholes" position.

On behalf of the majority of us Americans who do not in fact "celebrate the taking of a human life" or wish for opportunities to inflict bloody painful deaths on our fellow human beings, I apologize for the handful of vocal nutjobs that have set you off and made you so fighty and mean today.
posted by pineapple at 12:07 PM on September 18, 2009 [3 favorites]


Alright! Now this discussion has gotten distinctly Baltimorean.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 12:08 PM on September 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


My concern for them as a fellow human being ended the moment they decided to enter my property and become a threat to myself and/or my family. My only response will be to stop the threat and call the authorities (in that order).

I'm all with you on stopping the threat and calling the authorities (in that order) but you'd really let him die or get brain-damaged because you didn't feel like letting a towel get bloody?


Agreed. That's why you shouldn't risk your life breaking into other peoples' houses.

Unfortunately, I can't choose what other people do. I can choose what I do, and if I ever find myself with a home invader on my hands, I will do my darndest to prevent the deaths of any of the involved parties, including the invader.

That said, as other people have pointed out, how do you know this complete stranger is only there to take your TV?

If he hasn't yet demonstrated that he's after the TV (by taking the TV and leaving) I do not, in fact, know that that's all he's after. What's more, I won't do anything until I know what he's up to. If wake to find him standing over me with a knife, then yeah, I'll have at him. But if he goes straight for the electronics, I will not use deadly force if he doesn't attack me first. In fact, if he's just there to take stuff, unless he tries to take my banjo I probably won't attack him at all. It's not worth the risk.

And how confident would you be that this complete stranger, who you just shot/hit in the head/stabbed, would be happy to receive your assistance and would just sit there as you applied a touriquet or performed CPR. Many people, even if their judgement wasn't potentially impaired by shock and blood loss, might be quite angry that you had injured them.

If he won't receive whatever care I can offer him, that's his problem. I will not withhold it on the assumption that he will reject it or use it as an opportunity to attack me. If he is so badly hurt that I need to help him, it's unlikely that he'll be able to seriously hurt me, especially if I keep my wits about me; I've no problem giving a good swift kick in the ribs if he goes for the knife.

And CPR? Seriously? If he is sufficiently strong and alert that he can fend off CPR, he probably doesn't need it.
posted by Commander Rachek at 12:10 PM on September 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


I got very lucky. I got lucky because my friend is alive today. I got lucky because I'm the one presenting my story, instead of it coming through a news outlet, because if someone else was telling the story I'm sure that there would be a bunch of dudes on MetaFilter talking about what an uncaring, ice cold motherfucker I must have been to just watch a dude die like that.

I would hope that there would be just as many people who would realize that people dying/bleeding/seizing is really, really scary and know that whoever it was may have just been too shocked to think. I know I would, just as I've said in previous posts here. I'm glad your friend is still alive.
posted by Scotty_D at 12:12 PM on September 18, 2009


ChurchHatesTucker: What I don't get is why that's so hard to understand.

What you don't get is my point. The points being that (i) your property is not more valuable than a human life - any human life, and (ii) the idea that burglars actually deserve to be killed is pretty morally dubious. Defending your life when your life is in danger is fine, buy it's an odd thing to fetishise.

There's no death sentence for burglary in any US state I can think of, so why is the act of killing unarmed trespassers so celebrated in US culture? Seems to me some people just love being big beardy frontiersmen when there's no frontier left to be beardy about.

pineapple: Sorry, you're quite right. It's been a long day and I didn't read your comment as thoroughly as I should. You're one of the good ones.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 12:12 PM on September 18, 2009 [13 favorites]


Alright! Now this discussion has gotten distinctly Baltimorean.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 3:08 PM on September 18


It's especially Balti in that the fucking Sun was totally wrong and fucked everything up so nobody has any idea what's going on.

Lake Trout?
posted by Potomac Avenue at 12:15 PM on September 18, 2009 [3 favorites]


Stonewall Jackson: I'm certainly not going to feel bad if the person who broke into my house is injured or killed as a result of my actions.

Maybe I'm just a crazy bleedingheart or hopelessly naive or overly sensitive or whatever, but I honestly just flat-out cannot believe the people who are saying this. I don't think they are telling the truth about this.
posted by shakespeherian at 12:15 PM on September 18, 2009 [3 favorites]


the buddha and mahatma gandhi are two of the most influential figures informing my personal worldview. i try to live my life, though with many human lapses, based on their teachings of compassion and nonviolence.

however, these teachings do not make me naive to how the world can actually be sometimes. having lived in some VERY sketchy neighborhoods in birmingham, alabama and new orleans, plus considerable time in some downright dangerous places in india, i know that no amount of well-intentioned compassion can get through to certain types of people who intend to do you harm. in these cases the caring option is rendered moot.

some of these comments, specifically Librarygeek's, illustrate what, in my mind, is a dangerous way of thinking that seems to be growing more common--that the victim here was not the person upon whom the crime was committed, but the perpetrator of said crime(s). i am assuming that this line of reasoning spawns from being a second-hand observer of these types of situations rather than ever having been a participant. whether the criminal was armed or unarmed is completely irrelevant. to say it does also shows a bit of ignorance as to what an unarmed person is capable. unarmed does not mean helpless.

the victim here is john pontolillo, who had his shit burglarized, caught the burglar red-handed, and protected himself when he felt threatened. he is a victim by having to have killed another human being, and all the resultant psychological trauma that, and this media circus, will no doubt infuse the rest of his existence. he didn't ask for this. i'm pretty sure in my assumption that he didn't deserve this.

so this whiny, in-hindsight "morally superior" second guessing needs to go away. please stop victimizing the victim.
posted by clarenceism at 12:15 PM on September 18, 2009 [11 favorites]


why is the act of killing unarmed trespassers so celebrated in US culture?

Because...it's not. Also, this particular trespasser failed to wear his "hey, I'm unarmed" t-shirt.
posted by weirdoactor at 12:16 PM on September 18, 2009


>There's no death sentence for burglary in any US state I can think of, so why is the act of killing unarmed trespassers so celebrated in US culture?

Because you don't know if they're merely burglars.

I dunno, is there some kind of registry system to sort this out in other countries? Murders and rapists to the left, property crimes to the right, take a number?
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 12:17 PM on September 18, 2009 [5 favorites]


> If he hasn't yet demonstrated that he's after the TV (by taking the TV and leaving) I do not, in fact, know that that's all he's after.

Fair enough. I should be clear. If I wake up in the middle of the night and hear noises coming from my living room, I'm not going to run downstairs firing a gun or swinging a sword. In that case, I'm just going to call the cops and let them do their thing. After all, I know fuck-all about self-defence and I'm not going to risk anyone's life over any of my possessions. But if said burgler upped the ante by entering my bedroom (or my kids' room, if I had kids) and didn't make like the wind the nanosecond I made my presence known...that's when I'd assume for lack of more information that s/he was here to do me or my loved ones physical harm, and I would act accordingly.
posted by Stonewall Jackson at 12:19 PM on September 18, 2009


A college kid who is in fear for his life and property and has a right under American laws to defend his life and property

Actually not the case. Maryland has a Castle Law, as defined by case law, not by statute. The general interpretation is that you do not have a "duty to retreat" if you're threatened in your house. The complication is that Mr. Rice wasn't in Mr. Pontolillo's house. Mr. Pontolillo heard a noise, picked up his sword and went outside to investigate at 1 am, without calling the police. In fact, the police had come around earlier to tell him that a suspicious person was in the area.

That said, I have very mixed feelings about what happened. It happened to be that Mr. Rice was a career criminal and probably was dangerous, but what Mr. Pontolillo did was really fucking stupid. He knew that there was someone suspicious around because the police had just been at his house. But it was equally likely that it was an underage drinker was running from a busted party. Pontolillo was in a dangerous situation because he put himself in one, probably through some combination of naivete and machismo.
posted by electroboy at 12:19 PM on September 18, 2009 [3 favorites]


clarenceism: some of these comments, specifically Librarygeek's, illustrate what, in my mind, is a dangerous way of thinking that seems to be growing more common--that the victim here was not the person upon whom the crime was committed, but the perpetrator of said crime(s).

You're excluding the middle. I don't think anyone's arguing that the perpetrator is the victim. What they're arguing is that it's not a strictly black-hat-white-hat situation. The initial victim of a crime may themselves do something in response that itself is not right. That doesn't change the nature of the original crime, but neither does it absolve the original victim of responsibility for their subsequent actions.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 12:20 PM on September 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


Anyone entering my house without permission or a search warrant dies. I have no interest in risking my life finding out whether they want to harm me or just take some stuff. They die. I'm happy that the law in my state is on my side.

A big thanks to John Pontolillo -- he has saved the taxpayers and future victims of Mr. Rice an untold amount of $$ and suffering, respectively.
posted by coolguymichael at 12:20 PM on September 18, 2009 [6 favorites]


Oh Baltimore. I don't miss you very much.

Someone broke into our flat in the middle of the night when I lived in DC. We screamed; he fled.

If someone broke into my house now, I'd do what I could do make them leave/keep them from hurting me or anyone else in the house.

If someone is in my backyard/detached garage (I don't have one of those), I'm going to assume he's armed and I'm not going our there to confront him. I'm going to lock my back door and call the cops.

I feel for the panicky kid, kind of. But if the cops had just left and I heard a noise or saw movement, I would have re-dialed 911, not confronted a potentially armed stranger who, for all I know, could just shoot me and take my sword.
posted by rtha at 12:21 PM on September 18, 2009


Yeah, who's saying they'd be celebratory? Certainly not me. I do not want anyone to break into my home, ever, for any reason. If they do, I reserve the right to defend myself, my loved ones, and my property with whatever means I can. If I harm or kill the intruder, I won't be happy and throwing a party. I'll be disappointed that law enforcement didn't stop it before it got to that point. I'll be sad that someone was that desperate. I'll be unhappy that someone got hurt or killed. I'll be annoyed at whatever legal hassles and paperwork I have to deal with. If everyone in my household comes through unscathed, I will be relieved about that, just as I was when our house burned down a few years ago. It'd just be a different kind of disaster to deal with than a fire.
posted by jamstigator at 12:22 PM on September 18, 2009 [5 favorites]


The "spear laceration" that caused "a severe wound to his upper body" is at least at likely to have killed Mr. Rice as the nearly-severed hand.

But if the cops had just left and I heard a noise or saw movement, I would have re-dialed 911

Shoot, if the cops were close enough to hear the screams they were close enough to hear someone yell for the police.

That's why you shouldn't risk your life breaking into other peoples' houses.

This incident happened outside of the house, and there's no proof that Rice broke into anything. Sure, it's possible--even probable--that Rice had stolen the stuff earlier, but we don't know that for sure. Someone stole an XBox console and two laptops, and there weren't any signs of forced entry. For all we know one of the students could have boosted the stuff.

Bodymore Murdaland.
posted by kirkaracha at 12:24 PM on September 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


All I can think of is the Orange Suit man from M.Night/Bruce Willis Unbreakable. The poor dad in the movie didn't try to fight back either. The invader was armed only with aggression, and wasn't a burglar.

Though this isn't the case with Katana Man, it is the basis for my complete lack of sympathy (in any fashion whatsoever) and instant application of extreme prejudice for any burglar, or home invader that crosses my threshold.
posted by HyperBlue at 12:24 PM on September 18, 2009


> If I wake up in the middle of the night and hear noises coming from my living room, I'm not going to run downstairs firing a gun or swinging a sword. In that case, I'm just going to call the cops and let them do their thing.

Really? Every time you hear a noise?

No wonder the cops take their bloody time about it.

posted by Stonewall Jackson

Eponironic.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 12:26 PM on September 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


This morning, without any warning, a very big man I don't know walked round the back of my house, opened the door, and walked into my kitchen.

I get the feeling that if I'd been some of the people here, I'd have shot him in the face...

...and then gone outside and discovered the bathroom suite he was trying to deliver...
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 12:26 PM on September 18, 2009


Anyone entering my house without permission or a search warrant dies.

So probable cause is right out?
posted by Astro Zombie at 12:27 PM on September 18, 2009 [3 favorites]


kill an intruder. claim he seemed to have a weapon. ok. it is your private property and no one gives a shit about the perp. frontier stuff. they shoot horses, don't the?
posted by Postroad at 12:27 PM on September 18, 2009


that's when I'd assume for lack of more information that s/he was here to do me or my loved ones physical harm, and I would act accordingly.

As would I. But I don't think "acting accordingly" includes letting someone bleed to death. Once he goes down and doesn't get back up, he is no longer my enemy. At that point he might not deserve a pat on the back and a cup of coffee, but he does deserve whatever life saving measures are necessary and that I can give him.
posted by Commander Rachek at 12:28 PM on September 18, 2009


Some people are less human than others is more like it. Show some fucking compassion.

There's no "some people" involved, here, unless you're trying to claim that "people who break into houses and then attack the occupants" are a protected class. Assuming that what's been reported so far is accurate (i.e. that Rice lunged at Pontolillo), we're talking about self-defense, not "lol killing a d00d over a macbook". The former is a natural right which belongs not just to every human, but to every living being.

What's the alternative? Was Pontolillo supposed to stand there and let Rice hurt him, because hey, it's just a macbook, and I'm in the way of this guy's crime right now, so it's OK if he attacks me? IMHO, that's "some people are less human than others", in a nutshell. I agree with many that Pontolillo probably would have been wiser to lock the door, stay inside, and call the cops, but going outside to see what the noise is does not invalidate his right to self-defense if attacked.

There's no death sentence for burglary in any US state I can think of, so why is the act of killing unarmed trespassers so celebrated in US culture?

You're neatly eliding the fact that "unarmed" does not necessarily equal "not a threat". If the story as told so far is accurate, all Rice had to do to be "not a threat" was surrender, stay under the deck until the cops arrived, and then be taken peacefully to jail. Instead, he went on the offensive and lunged at Pontolillo, and thus became an immediate threat, armed or not.
posted by vorfeed at 12:29 PM on September 18, 2009


So probable cause is right out?

Yes ;-)
posted by coolguymichael at 12:29 PM on September 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


Once he goes down and doesn't get back up, he is no longer my enemy. At that point he might not deserve a pat on the back and a cup of coffee, but he does deserve whatever life saving measures are necessary and that I can give him.

FTFY
posted by Scoo at 12:31 PM on September 18, 2009


> Really? Every time you hear a noise?

Oh, come on. I know the difference between the sound of my dog getting a drink of water, a raccoon in my backyard and someone breaking into my house.
posted by Stonewall Jackson at 12:31 PM on September 18, 2009


>Oh, come on. I know the difference between the sound of my dog getting a drink of water, a raccoon in my backyard and someone breaking into my house.

Really? 'Cause I don't know the difference between the sound of a raccon breaking into my house (in which case I'd still want to be armed) and a burglar. You've had more experience with those?
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 12:34 PM on September 18, 2009


vorfeed, I'm not (and have not) said that there's anything wrong with injuring or killing someone in self-defence, as may or may not have been the case in this instance.

My comments were about the strange fetishisation of this right to harm intruders, and the way people talk about it as if it's some glorious and noble defence of the home rather than the squalid, nasty, emotionally-scarring thing it really is.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 12:36 PM on September 18, 2009 [6 favorites]


It would appear that Pontolillo did what you'd expect someone to do with a Japanese sword who wasn't particularly experienced using them: he stuck it out in front of himself ("He did one forward motion, which is important to this case."). Cutting precisely with one is something you have to train to do as I have learned (or failed to learn despite years of training), but the tips are sharp and you can penetrate a body easily with a vigorous thrust. It's quite possible most of the cutting was done as either Pontolillo or the burglar pulled back rather than Pontilillo wielding it like a Samurai. Assuming the sword was maintained, the cut would have been quick and clean and neither of them would have realized how serious until the blood started. Had the burglar not been directly in front I doubt this would have ended the way it did.
posted by tommasz at 12:37 PM on September 18, 2009


le morte de bea arthur: The same thing happens with a lot of squalid, nasty, emotionally-scarring events and not just by Americans. We even make movies and write books that outright glorify self-defense, vengeance, war, etc.
posted by ODiV at 12:40 PM on September 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm always somewhat amused by these sorts of discussions. Everyone has a firm belief about exactly how they'd respond (and of course everyone else's different responses are wrong, wrong, wrong). I don't think peoples' responses are so predictable, and unless you've been put into a similar situation, you really can't accurately state how you'd respond. The part of the brain that lets you post your belief on here isn't the same part that responds to a crisis.
posted by me & my monkey at 12:42 PM on September 18, 2009 [9 favorites]


> You've had more experience with those?

Yeah, actually. Raccoons knock my composting bin over at least once a week. Said composting bin is in my back yard. When I hear a loud *clunk* followed by the sound of paws scrabbling over hard plastic and garbage bags being torn open I curse, go back to sleep and clean up the mess in the morning. They used to get into my attic, too. Once again, the sound of four paws was quite distinct from two legs, and I would curse, go back to sleep and call a carpenter in the morning. When raccoons start breaking into my house and stealing my stereo...well, then I suppose I'll have to be more careful.
posted by Stonewall Jackson at 12:42 PM on September 18, 2009


>It would appear that Pontolillo did what you'd expect someone to do with a Japanese sword who wasn't particularly experienced using them: he stuck it out in front of himself

Coincidently, that's one of the most basic moves with a katana.

As I said above, I suspect that neither of the appreciated the damage that it could do.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 12:43 PM on September 18, 2009


The robber had two injuries. A severed hand, and a spear injury to the chest.

The kid slashed, then jabbed, and connected with both. The sword straight into the chest is probably what killed the robber, fairly quickly if central and between some ribs, I would guess. I am not any kind of professional that would actually know.
posted by Antidisestablishmentarianist at 12:47 PM on September 18, 2009


I think the most telling piece of information in this story in Pontolilo's favor is the fact he was holding a sword. If a criminal you've caught in your shit comes after you even though you're pointing the business end of four feet of shiny steel at him, then I'm thinking that's enough evidence said criminal had intent to do you harm.

"The punks in Gila Highlands weren't afraid of the gun, so the Deliverator was forced to use it. But swords need no demonstration."

I've always believed this, but by the sounds of it folks in Baltimore are somewhat more used to firearms?
posted by doctoryes at 12:47 PM on September 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


le morte bea arthur--my criticisms were of those who see the situation in black and white. in no way was i implying that potolillo is absolved of his murder, as he will have to live with the consequences of his actions for the rest of his life. this is a pretty severe punishment befitting the situation.

though when i read this from the "more details" article link in the comments above--
"But reports of the student using profanity as he screamed at the burglar before striking him down raised some question over how aggressive he may have been leading up to the fatal confrontation"
--makes me question if my initial post was relevant to this situation.

also, i didnt know that the cops were so close. why didnt he call out to them?

maybe potolillo was an aggressive douche who had fantasies of doing a mifune on the bad guys with his samurai sword. maybe he will never feel the remorse and pain that would plague most individuals after such an event. then this whole situation is just tragic and unnecessary like the millions of tragic and unnecessary events that happen daily on planet earth.

still, in regards to the larger question of the rights of the criminal and the rights of the victim in taking action to stop the ciminal, i stand firm. though who knows if any of that even applies to this case anymore.
posted by clarenceism at 12:53 PM on September 18, 2009


>The robber had two injuries. A severed hand, and a spear injury to the chest.

The kid slashed, then jabbed, and connected with both.


That was my first thought, but it's entirely possible *especially if someone is trying to disarm you* to do all that damage by moving from a guard position (which is how most people hold a katana) to a thrust. One move.

>If a criminal you've caught in your shit comes after you even though you're pointing the business end of four feet of shiny steel at him, then I'm thinking that's enough evidence said criminal had intent to do you harm.

I have to agree. The responses of 'he wasn't armed' fall flat for me. I'd have assumed he had *something* up his sleeve.

he will have to live with the consequences of his actions for the rest of his life. this is a pretty severe punishment befitting the situation.

Yup. That's a pretty harsh thing to have to deal with. Everyone who assumes he's just waving the sword over his head like Captain Morgan needs to dial back.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 1:00 PM on September 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


I think after 29 prior convictions for breaking and enetring and other similar crimes this waste of skin got the justice he deserved.

And anyone who would seriously not defend themselves against someone who lunges at them after having broken into their own home - also gets exactly what they deserve.

And anyone who secong guesses this kids actions based on a newspaper story that can't even get the size of the sword correct to within 2 feet is simply blowing empty words out of what pases for their mouth.
posted by Poet_Lariat at 1:15 PM on September 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


I think after 29 prior convictions for breaking and enetring and other similar crimes this waste of skin got the justice he deserved.

At the very least, he just wasn't a very good burglar.
posted by Astro Zombie at 1:19 PM on September 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


As someone who has dealt with this, repeatedly, I find those sentiments repulsive.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 1:34 PM on September 18, 2009 [5 favorites]


My comments were about the strange fetishisation of this right to harm intruders, and the way people talk about it as if it's some glorious and noble defence of the home rather than the squalid, nasty, emotionally-scarring thing it really is.

If your problem is that not everyone has the same take on this highly-emotional issue as you do, then maybe that shouldn't be so surprising. Or, I guess you could assume that everyone else is too into their "strange fetishisation" to see this issue as it "really is"...

Personally, I figure lethal self-defense is both a glorious and noble defense of the home and a squalid, nasty, emotionally-scarring thing. This is a big issue, and it has more than enough room for more than one reaction and/or interpretation. Many of the first-hand reports I've read suggest that self-defenders often feel both noble and debased, and tend to swing back and forth between trying to convince themselves that they've done right, and trying to convince themselves that they've done wrong. That seems like a pretty natural reaction to me, because there's some social right (protecting) and some social wrong (killing) involved, here...

At any rate, I think there's much more to this than mere fetishization.
posted by vorfeed at 1:37 PM on September 18, 2009 [10 favorites]


I live in the same neighborhood, and I've had things stolen out of my yard, off my porch and I've had my car stolen. My next door neighbors had their door crowbared open and I've lived plenty of places that have been broken into. I think I have a pretty good idea of what's involved in the whole process.
posted by electroboy at 1:39 PM on September 18, 2009


I think after 29 prior convictions for breaking and enetring and other similar crimes this waste of skin got the justice he deserved.

Interestingly, this attitude makes the United States look more and more like the Muslim theocracies that the US military and its Christian fundamentalists are trying to dismantle overseas. When asking what Jesus would do, clearly it would be the Holy Son taking a page from the book of Pulp Fiction.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:40 PM on September 18, 2009 [8 favorites]


Our household has an actual made-to-be-used katana, kept regularly sharpened, because my husband has taken iajutsu classes for years now and they use them for cutting practice on tatami mats. We've also got a few sticks of various lengths. The swords stay in their case and the sticks are what you'll find around our house. Once we buy a house, we're going to invest in a locked case so that they're even more inaccessible by anyone but us, and the sticks will be stored away when we have children. Swords will not be used for home defence, period. They're not

> I suspect that neither of the appreciated the damage that it could do.

I agree completely. People do not realise how heavy katanas are, and the kind of momentum they create. I can't really pass judgement on Pontolillo for what happened that night, because it seems very obvious that it was a heat of the moment situation, and he's 20 years old. An interesting addition to this is that my husband's sensei knows Pontolillo's sensei, and he is indeed a sword student (not sure if it's an iajutsu class or not). Could be a beginner, could be a long term student, could be a good student, could be a bad one. I would be interested to know why he chose to pick up a blade rather than a stick though - if he had taken enough classes to buy an actual sword, he could have had the ability to take down someone with a stick.
posted by saturnine at 1:42 PM on September 18, 2009 [7 favorites]


"But reports of the student using profanity as he screamed at the burglar before striking him down raised some question over how aggressive he may have been leading up to the fatal confrontation"--makes me question if my initial post was relevant to this situation.

Have you ever been stopped by the cops? I can personally attest that they quite often use lots and lots of profanity. And they are trained professionals.

don't discount the fact that people who've had to deal with this kind of crap might be a bit more vindicitive than those who haven't.

While I don't agree in celebrating death because it's just ghoulish, I would agree it's probably a net gain for society when we lose a career criminal like this.
posted by anti social order at 1:42 PM on September 18, 2009


*They're not - dammit, I took ages writing that comment too.
posted by saturnine at 1:44 PM on September 18, 2009


There is a certain sort of young man that purchases swords. The exact sort of person that shouldn't as a matter of fact. UK police officers fucking hate dealing with these people but have to do it literally every weekend. I personally would lock and barrier my bedroom door with my loved ones inside if able to do so, call the police and do my best to be prepared if the person attempted to gain entry.

Seeking out trouble results in one thing only - finding it.

For those who would say the burglar sought out trouble - that's as maybe, that doesn't mean that two people have to be dumb.
posted by longbaugh at 1:45 PM on September 18, 2009


what vorefeed said. Perspective and the pendulum.
posted by HyperBlue at 1:45 PM on September 18, 2009


Ah, Baltimore. I lived in Baltimore when I was a little little kid. Captain Chesapeake, represent!

As a little little kid, I still hadn't quite gotten the message about not opening the door just because somebody knocked. So, when someone knocked one night, I raced to the door, opened it, and was face to groin with a naked guy. Who, after he staggered forward, was revealed to have a big knife in his back.

That's all I've got to say about Baltimore.
posted by adipocere at 1:46 PM on September 18, 2009 [9 favorites]


Funny you should say that me and my monkey! About three years ago, my cat was acting weird and my wife got up to chase the possum out of our house, again. I'm sitting there at the computer and hear "what are you doing in my house!" in something other than the tone my wife would use for small furry mammals, followed by a sort of mumbled reply.

"Oh fuck oh fuck oh fuck!" I thought (only in all caps and with more vulgarity), and grabbed the nearest weaponlike object - a bastard sword sized hickory waster. Not sharp, and too big to actually swing in the kitchen, but I figured I could do something more or less like this only with less hooking and more pommel strikes. Since my wife was between me and him, what I did was find the best ambush point I could and started doing little kinesthetic exercises.

Fortunately, he decided to start telling a Ken-Lay-calibur lie, and I decided to let him. He never went aggressive so I stayed put, waiting. If he had, I'm not sure my initial impact wouldn't have broken his neck. Swords, even swords that are overglorified sticks, can not be set for stun.

The fan site is creepy, but given the number of people who told me "What you shoulda done was...." followed by some feat of advanced machomancy that involved beating the guy to death for fun and profit, not particularly surprising.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 1:47 PM on September 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


I'd say I side with people who think this is an unfortunate thing, although understandable, and I would not want to be in a similar situation. I am also of the opinion that people are not essentially one thing or another, and so even somebody who has committed a lot of crimes have the potential to become something better, and that life is not something to be snuffed out with a cavalier attitude, and even the life of a crook is probably worth some degree of reflection, rather than simply deciding they had no value whatsoever and are better off gone. Unless you've actually been in a situtation where you were confronted with the possibility of having to use lethal force, it seems strange to me to strut around with this lethal bravado, claiming your house as some sort of sacred space where anyone who enters without permission has abandoned any right to life -- well, that strikes me as extraordinarily presumptuous.

I will protect myself if I have to, and I would probably assume the worst of somebody breaking into my house, but I really, really do not relish the though, and ultimately feel that my possessions are less valuable than a human life; I certainly would not kill to protect my stuff, but only my safety.
posted by Astro Zombie at 1:48 PM on September 18, 2009 [6 favorites]


There is a certain sort of young man that purchases swords.

Yeah, they go with the $5000 worth of museum catalogs and the various and sundry artifacts I've picked up via E-bay. What are you trying to say.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 1:49 PM on September 18, 2009 [3 favorites]


A number of folks on here are stating that if someone broke into their house, showed no inclination of harm, that they'd let that person take what they wanted and depart. What I find distressing about this is that this would seem to teach the burglar that so long as they aren't threatening, they can invade homes and take what they like. At worse, they have to worry about the police showing up too late to stop them. Perhaps I'm making some kind of logical fallacy, but this doesn't seem like a "good" thing.

I agree, shooting people over a laptop is foolish, but it's certainly a risk that a criminal undertakes when trespassing onto someone else's property. There's also the risk of being attacked by a dog, beaten with a bat, or hit with a frying pan. I would hate to live in a neighborhood where my neighbors have consented to not resisting to crime.

I also don't think this is a matter of, "Oooh, home invader, I can kill him and get away with it!" The home is a nearly sacrosanct place in America. While in recent years, the Supreme Court has taken away the privileges of being in one's home (for parolees and probationers), it still remains a place off limits to only those who are invited (barring police with permission, judicial permission, or special circumstances). When someone breaks into one's home, much less to take something, it creates an emotional reaction. In situations where a burglar is killed it's a re-affirmation of one's right to the privacy and safety of one's home. The fact that one is not legally punished is a statement to how precious this privacy and security is in American law and culture.
posted by Atreides at 1:49 PM on September 18, 2009 [3 favorites]


Apologies - that was before saturnine's post w/r/t the student being either an Iaido/jutsu Kendo/jutsu practitioner. I happen to know one of the top 10 Kendo practitioners in the UK and he does not own a sword, then again he has also been doing JDK, Eskrima and a host of other martial arts for 25 years. He also spent over a decade on the doors so no biggie. There are still too many stupid people I have met personally who own swords to discount my initial comment however.
posted by longbaugh at 1:52 PM on September 18, 2009


There is a certain sort of young man that purchases swords.

People who take sword classes? I'm from the UK, so I know exactly the kind of young man you're talking about, but Pontolillo was taking classes and has a sensei. He had a legitimate reason to own one. That's not to say he had a legitimate reason to use one in the way that he did (the more I read that he got the sword out and raised it, the more I get annoyed), but I don't think he's some chav living in his parent's bedroom waiting to go mental one day in the middle of the high street.
posted by saturnine at 1:54 PM on September 18, 2009


>Scoo: [citation needed]

Kellermann AL, Rivara FP, Rushforth NB, et al. Gun ownership as a risk factor for homicide in the home. N Engl J Med 1993;329(15):1084-1091.


For future referrence, Arthur Kellerman's NEJM articles on guns and violence are exceptionally poor examples of social-science-research. This book is probably the single best meta-analysis of the existing research and statistics on guns and violence (including accidents) in the US and devotes many pages outlining the glaring weaknesses in Kellerman's work. And you can read it for free here.

Short version: it is highly unlikely that a gun in your home will ever be used to defend against a criminal attacker. It is several times less likely that it will ever be involved in an accidental injury or death.
posted by K.P. at 1:56 PM on September 18, 2009 [6 favorites]


Chavs are wielding swords now? That's troubling. Are the hilts encrusted with sovereign rings?
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 1:56 PM on September 18, 2009


My timing with posts is so off today.

To be fair longbaugh, if he hadn't been a junior chemistry major, I would have almost agreed with you that he was of those young men. They turn up in my husband's class occasionally - one of his classmates regularly goes on misogynist rants about women, and I wouldn't be surprised if he goes nuts one day.
posted by saturnine at 1:56 PM on September 18, 2009


You guys say "People who take sword classes" like that's evidence of sanity. I've taken my share of martial arts classes, and in my classes roughly 70 percent of the people there were reading The Art of War when they should have been reading Freud.
posted by Astro Zombie at 1:59 PM on September 18, 2009 [5 favorites]


This is great! If more people took the action that Pontolillo did, the world would be a better place.
posted by blaneyphoto at 2:00 PM on September 18, 2009


I think a lot of the frustration comes about from hearing stories like this one, where a guy who was convicted of murder, was sent to a mental hospital that took him out on a field trip to the state fair, where he escaped.
posted by nomisxid at 2:02 PM on September 18, 2009


Seriously, good for Pontolillo, and I hope this doesn't haunt him for the rest of his life. You don't enter someone's house with intent to commit a crime, and then attack them, without risking something like this. As has been pointed out, he could have been killed even if the intruder was unarmed, and being that he was holding a katana when he was attacked, only a fool would have put it down to resort to less lethal means! As for supplying first aid (assuming he was trained) and getting said low-life's blood all over him, nuts to that. The only thing he did wrong was that he didn't immediately call the police. But I say that because he took an unnecessary risk -- what if the guy was packing heat? Good luck parrying bullets.
posted by Edgewise at 2:03 PM on September 18, 2009


RTFA. He wasn't in the house, he was in the backyard.
posted by electroboy at 2:05 PM on September 18, 2009 [3 favorites]


I live on the border of a really sketchy neighborhood, and robberies and home invasions are not uncommon.

So last night I'm home alone (I live with my husband and father in law) and I hear the dogs barking and some noise downstairs. I yell "HELLO?" - no response. What should I have done? I'm a 95 lb female, unarmed. The dogs are crated and can't bite an intruder.
posted by desjardins at 2:10 PM on September 18, 2009


A number of folks on here are stating that if someone broke into their house, showed no inclination of harm, that they'd let that person take what they wanted and depart. What I find distressing about this is that this would seem to teach the burglar that so long as they aren't threatening, they can invade homes and take what they like.

I don't think it's fair to blame the victim here. It's not my job, as the victim of a crime, to teach the perpetrator of the crime a lesson about right and wrong. If someone comes into my house and steals my laptop, I'll put in a claim on my homeowners insurance and get reimbursed. I'm not going to do anything that will make it more likely for me to get into any kind of physical altercation with them, let alone kill them, and it's unreasonable for anyone to expect me to just because it sends a message that crime doesn't pay.

In situations where a burglar is killed it's a re-affirmation of one's right to the privacy and safety of one's home.

Personally I think it's a tragedy and a re-affirmation of the fact that humans are incapable of living together without killing each other.
posted by burnmp3s at 2:13 PM on September 18, 2009 [3 favorites]


An interesting addition to this is that my husband's sensei knows Pontolillo's sensei, and he is indeed a sword student (not sure if it's an iajutsu class or not).

Interesting, saturnine, that wasn't mentioned in any of the linked articles that Pontolillo studied any sword art. Of course, it still doesn't mean his actions were deliberate. I study iaido and while we practice katas, that's nothing at all like a combat situation. Everything's different when the adrenaline is flowing and you have no idea what your opponent is going to do.
posted by tommasz at 2:15 PM on September 18, 2009


but the tips are sharp and you can penetrate a body easily with a vigorous thrust

obligatory demonstration
posted by Palamedes at 2:25 PM on September 18, 2009


"There is no need to use deadly force on an unarmed intruder"
Darwin award honorable mention.
posted by 2sheets at 2:27 PM on September 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


You can die extremely quickly from blood loss from a severed anything. Blood loss will kill you much faster than anything else. (Which is why in close quarter combat I generally prefer blades or a blade/short barrel firearm combination over carrying a shield. YMMV. All depends on the goal and scenario. For the most part I’ve noticed the reaction to getting shot is very different to the reaction of getting cut very badly. Most skilled combatants will continue acting after they’ve been shot. For the most part, this is how better trained individuals react – and too, how very aggressive or drug addled folks react. Blade – different story – losing a large amount of blood quickly is a quick impairment, and the psychological effect is crucial. Nearly everyone stops moving quickly when they have very bloody wounds. Bullets don’t always cause these. I could go on (stopping power vs. killing power, etc. bullet cavitation promoting coagulation, etc.), I won’t).

In terms of blood loss, it all depends on the dimensions of the wound and the location. So, f’rinstnace, it’s better (on a human and most mammals) to sever the arteries above the heart than to penetrate the heart because blood pressure drops to zero and no blood gets to the brain and stoppage occurs in short seconds (and a quick brain death follows).

So – lethal hemorrhaging doesn’t depend on the amount of blood loss, but on loss of pressure.
One useful formula (used by Jan Friis-Hansen who studied Mesolithic arrow wounds) for minimum wound area to cause lethality within 10 seconds is the minimum wound area cm2= (1 cm2 / 15 kg body mass) + 60 cm2.

Now that’s based on a center mass transverse shot, but hemorrhagic shock is hemorrhagic shock. It’s not just blood volume loss that causes that, but pressure drop. Cutting off a hand – pretty big pressure drop there.

Far as I know though from combat casualty medicine there aren’t any hard clinical physiological algorithms on how much blood or how fast a drop you can take and survive (or die) – I’m sure they’d love it for triage.

As it is – your systolic BP is still one of the best indicators for medical treatment even though as far back as WWII they knew arterial blood pressure wasn’t a perfect guide to how much blood you lost.

In any case – yes, you can die surprisingly quickly if someone chops your hand off and there’s no hard and fast rule. You can lose not so much blood, but experience a drop in pressure that kills you. Or you can lose a lot of blood and die from just that. Or shock. Kind of a crap shoot really.
Blade severed jugular – yea, you’re gonna stop immediately and probably die in very short order. As opposed to a bullet in the jugular where wound cavatation might (although probably won’t) save your life.

“Killing is bloody, sickening and brutal. There's nothing to celebrate or defend. The discussion shouldn't just be about justifying your paranoia about people taking your precious stuff.”

Well, there’s a difference between what some folks are saying. Some folks are saying he was justified because sure, maybe the guy was just there to steal, but how can anyone know that beforehand? So the threat of lethal force is justified and it’s use is justified if the intruder attacks.
With this, I agree.
Celebrating the death, glorifying it, no, it’s nothing at all to be happy about. And I agree that it seems like some other folks are saying that and I share your distaste.
In fact I find it revolting that people who have likely never done violence to someone much less killed anyone seem to take such pleasure in it.

It’s been my long standing personal opinion that such people tend to engage in such things vicariously and by proxy and by such means is unnecessary violence perpetuated. I’m no shrinking violet, I have no qualms about using violence, but only as a means and only when necessary. Too often the thing folks want is the busting heads part of it, not reaching the goals. I think this infatuation with it is far more dangerous than the violence itself. Look at fire. Under a boiler or cooking eggs, it’s a tool. In the eyes of someone infatuated with it, it’s a prelude to arson.

I have to reiterate though – “deserve” is not a factor, but that fact does cut both ways.
If someone is in your house, and they threaten you, the choice is your life or theirs, that decision is simple. If they’re in your house and they’re headed out the window with a t.v. running away – sure, entirely different story. It’s wrong to harm someone in full retreat. But that’s speaking in the abstract there, not regarding any specific details. Here – it appears he was threatened.
And the police failed to do their jobs. From the surface details it appears he was justified in defending himself.
With certain caveats (below).

“Pontolillo almost certainly didn't go outside to kill Donald Rice, but he took the right tools with him.”
He took the right tools if he wanted to kill someone, yeah. One of the reasons I prefer blades close in is because of the immediacy in their effect. One of the down sides is that they’re so lethal. So I would only use them in a situation like combat.

This really wasn’t combat. And one of the advantages of a firearm is it’s symbolic value. That is – you don’t have to use it to gain an advantage through the threat of using it.
Now I’m not going to say this guy wasn’t stupid for charging a guy with a sword. But swords aren’t as feared – they don’t have the psychological effect – that firearms have.
At least in our culture. So the threat is, paradoxically, less while the actual potential harm is much greater.
It’s been on t.v., I think Moore used some shotgun sound footage in his films on Flint (Roger & Me) and it’s cliché but the sound of loading a shell in the chamber of a pump shotgun does have an intimidating effect.

Me, I think if someone is in your house, you shoot them. You don’t scare them off by cycling the weapon because, sure, you don't know if they're going to jump you.
I will say though – if one can scare them off, one shoot. And if one should load non-lethal (or less than lethal) rounds in one’s shotgun – so much the better. Albeit I think the 3rd round should be lethal.
But the philosophy there is to give yourself as many options as possible. In this case – it seems the guy was holding the man for the cops – had cornered him. Well, in that situation, I think a firearm would have been more appropriate. You have the threat of being shot, which holds him.
Because, if he flees, he can’t outrun the bullets. If you’re holding a sword, well, maybe he can get past you and run.
So bringing a sword severely limits your options to only being lethal. Which I think was a grave (no pun int’d) error.
It makes me wonder why the guy holding the sword didn’t just evade and let the robber go. I have a hard time believing the robber was – what? – just overcome with rage and attacked a man with a several foot long blade in his hand? It seems more plausible to me that he just wanted to get away and had intended, perhaps, to just knock the guy down or skirt past him rather than evade.

Now I’m not going to say the man with the sword is completely at fault here. But I have to agree that there is no amount of personal property worth taking someone elses’ life. So too – no apprehension worth killing someone.

I strongly doubt the robber would have tried to lunge at the guy if he had a firearm, in part because of the psychological effect, but too because of the practical realities of trying to get away from someone with a ranged weapon.
If the guy did have a gun, and had shot the man in the back while he was fleeing the scene, this discussion would be very different.

As it is, sure, the robber should have stayed put and not risked his life to run. But neither is there any excuse to kill the man if – and I’ll stress we don’t know exactly what happened – but if he was just trying to run.

If the robber did indeed attack the swordman, I’d have to say that was part of the psychological effect as well (that is, folks in the U.S. have a more ingrained understanding of guns being dangerous whereas swords can be seen, by some, as effete and/or ceremonial – indeed, as seen in this thread) – but more foolhardy and more his own fault. Tough for me to believe he wanted to go to dukes though.

I myself have several swords and bladed weapons (I keep them in a golf bag). I would not use them against an intruder though. I would use my knife, but I’m fairly good at sneaking around for a larger guy and grappling – pretty sure someone holding a blade at your neck in the dark would give one pause. But my wife and I do have firearms in our room (in a top of the line quick safe). And we have dogs. They don’t bark.

Still, going out of the house to get someone. Probably take the dogs and a shotgun. I suspect my wife (or her dad) could pull off being intimidating with the sword. Y’know, the whole Asian thing.

But either way if the guy ran, I’d let him go. If he ran at me, if I’ve got my shotgun, I’ve got the option of hitting him with it, shooting him with rubber bullets or a slug (depending on what I’ve loaded), blinding him with a strobe, if it’s at night (Brite Strike - 198 lumens) , or shooting him again (to kill) if that doesn’t stop him.

Some folks can’t afford some of that, I know, but if this guy can afford $500 to $2,500 for swords, he can buy a decent shotgun.
Now people (here) have been saying that the sword guy didn’t know the robbers intent and had to use lethal force – and I agree.
But the corollary to the use of force is being responsible for controlling the situation.

Now, I agree that this guy can’t be held to the same standards as a trained police officer in use of force and so too in his control of the situation.
But part of controlling the situation is giving yourself defensive options. Could he not have retreated? They were apparently outdoors. Although I don’t know the landscape.

One can attribute and excuse some, even most, of his actions to ignorance. But I do hold him responsible for not giving himself options in controlling the defensive aspects of the situation.
And one of the core tenets that most everyone knows from common observation is that one tends to see problems through the lens of whatever tool one has at hand.
Only tool he had was lethal. And that was a choice he made at leisure when buying the sword, not in the immediacy of the event.

So no, I don’t know that he should (or shouldn’t) be charged with anything really. And I can generally empathize with using force against an intruder, I have a distaste for this. And less empathy for the argument that his skill wasn’t commensurate with the weapon he was holding.
I prefer knives because I’m a skilled combatives practitioner. I would not be –forced- to kill with a knife in most circumstances against an unskilled common criminal. Were I not skilled, I would use the most efficacious means available – a firearm, probably a shotgun. And indeed, I do have this at my disposal.
Use of a sword makes some pretense at skill (and he apparently had some). One cannot have, or even imply, skill to use a weapon and then deny one had no choice but to kill someone because of one’s lack of ability to control the situation.
...Don’t know if I’d say “blame” – pretty heavy word there.
But a life was lost through this guy’s failure to take into consideration the circumstances his choice of weapon would yield.
The criminal certainly bears the responsibility for his actions and the result of the choices he made in losing his own life. But of course, we expect him to fail. He’s a criminal.

So, no, legally, ok. But I don’t see any moral certitude being derived from this. Nothing ‘good’ came of it. And no one really deserved anything (other than jail for the burglar), they simply acted.

Sword guy killed someone, Maybe he had to. Maybe, had he considered giving himself other options, he might not have had to. Everyone involved (other than the dead guy) is going to have to live with that uncertain outcome.
Me, I don't like to let what I can't do interfere with what I can do.
posted by Smedleyman at 2:33 PM on September 18, 2009 [13 favorites]


> Of course, it still doesn't mean his actions were deliberate.

Of course. It's an interesting angle, and for all I know, he could have taken one class and dropped it, and the sensei is bragging that that's his student. It's a really hard situation to judge, because on one hand, the idea that he could have known better than to use his sword like that is infuriating, but on the other... who are we to judge? We weren't there, we don't know the context, we don't know him, the police have made their decision, and he's the one that has to live with the outcome.
posted by saturnine at 2:35 PM on September 18, 2009


[few comments removed - at the point at which you're calling out other mefites as awful people you need to step away from the thread or get to metatalk, thanks
posted by jessamyn at 2:36 PM on September 18, 2009


I yell "HELLO?" - no response. What should I have done?

if it were me I'd go to the gun safe, unlock it, pull out the Beretta, insert the magazine, get the phone ready, then wait upon further developments.

Gun safety involves a lot of training to get yourself to do the right thing under stress, but even though I'm anti-toughguyism I think a person has a common law right to arm him or herself for personal defense while in their own home.

The training I received involves not taking the gun off safety unless the situation demands it, and not pointing the gun at anything (other than the floor) that you're not actively trying to kill.
posted by Palamedes at 2:38 PM on September 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


Church Hates Tucker> Ditto Astro Zombie and Mayor West's CPR recommendations. Last I heard they've even dropped the whole breathing thing. You just want to keep the blood moving. Your ribs are the least of your problems.

I've been (recently) taught differently. The rule in play seems to be 30 chest compressions, then 2 mouth-to-mouths. At the very least, the 2 breaths allow the person performing CPR to rest slightly. But people suggest that in the near future, the recommended CPR practice will be only compressions.

tommasz> It would appear that Pontolillo did what you'd expect someone to do with a Japanese sword who wasn't particularly experienced using them: he stuck it out in front of himself ("He did one forward motion, which is important to this case.").

As CHT says, the first thing you learn in kenjutsu is the basic stance, with the sword held out and the tip pointing at your opponent's throat. The most basic offensive/defensive move is to let him or her impale him/herself on it in a poorly-executed attack.
posted by UrineSoakedRube at 2:38 PM on September 18, 2009


Smedleymoon Thanks for the education about combat wounds. It clarifies the situation for my mind. For some reason, I always pictured bleeding to death very slow. You also have some interesting points about the psychological affect of blade vs. gun. In my mind, I thought the blade could be used as a threat -- "don't move or I'll hurt you till the police get here" implement. I would be curious to know if the student tried the threaten route first, or sliced the guy as soon as he had the perp cornered. I think that would color my opinion on this. Mind you, the threat could be as you are slicing through the air, so long as you can stop just short if the perp freezes. Frankly, my mind is not made completely up for or against without all of the facts. But I do think that having the facts colors the picture, hence I pointed out that the thief was unarmed.

Another question that is sorta OT but related:
In some cultures today and in history, authorities would cut off the hands of criminals. How did the authorities keep from killing the criminal (or did they)?
posted by Librarygeek at 2:46 PM on September 18, 2009


if it were me I'd go to the gun safe, unlock it, pull out the Beretta, insert the magazine, get the phone ready, then wait upon further developments.

This was not a hypothetical situation. I do not have a hypothetical gun.
posted by desjardins at 2:46 PM on September 18, 2009


Report from WBAL TV.
posted by weirdoactor at 2:48 PM on September 18, 2009


I don't know how "distinctly american" it is, this pervasive fantasizing about violence... every time a thread like this happens, you have multiple people posting variations on "well if somebody invades my house, I'm gonna fuck him up! Yay justifiable homicide" ... whatever - it's always creeped me out.

Online, you never know who's talking like that, but in real life, the people I've known who did were clearly itching for something of the sort to happen, because it'd be the only way they could see themselves getting to do some serious violence, and feeling morally justified (at least in their imagining of it).

(everything I know about it- and none of it firsthand, I admit- says that if you kill another person, no matter how good your reasons, it's probably going to haunt you for the rest of your life. But that's not the point - it's a fantasy of violence to begin with, and of course it's probably never going to happen to the vast, vast majority of people. )

My point, I guess, is wtf? Why are there so many people out there, and/or in here, who apparently can't wait for an opportunity to shoot/stab/beat some crackhead who's trying to steal their TV? Is it fear, rage, too many video games, too much TV news? Whatever it is, it's creepy as hell.
posted by hap_hazard at 2:55 PM on September 18, 2009 [10 favorites]


(I hope the difference is clear between the immediacy of grabbing anything in the house from a kitchen knife to a frying pan to, ok, a katana, vs. buying a sword and having it handy for self-defense and choosing it in a not-so hasty situation, rather than, say, buying a shotgun before hand. And/or giving oneself options before an encounter. In this case an encounter in which this guy had the initiative and so had certain options at his disposal that a more immediate engagement lacks)
posted by Smedleyman at 2:56 PM on September 18, 2009


I do not have a hypothetical gun.

Actually, to be honest, my current gun in the gunsafe is hypothetical now, too, though 6 years ago a housemate did provide me a Beretta w/ safe after a home invader briefly visited us and I scared him off after I heard someone in the house and left my upstairs office to investigate.

I think the point is acquire tools and skills such that you are able to control possible (if not likely) crime situations in your home. Me, I moved into a third-floor apartment where someone has to kick in the deadbolted door to gain access so I feel pretty safe at night, even without my hypothetical gun.

Handguns are one such tool. They have considerable risk factors, of course, including mistakenly shooting someone you misidentified. There are not necessarily the best choice for everyone.

So if you aren't comfortable with the handgun option, there are other weapons like mace, tasers, or martial arts training like aikido to give you the ability to control a hostile intruder in your home. It is not really a complicated challenge.
posted by Palamedes at 2:56 PM on September 18, 2009


Is it fear, rage, too many video games, too much TV news?

Too much crime? The threat of crime is like the #1 shitty element of living in this society for most people.
posted by Palamedes at 2:59 PM on September 18, 2009


forgot the fark tag
posted by cjorgensen at 3:00 PM on September 18, 2009


RTFA. He wasn't in the house, he was in the backyard.

I really don't see this as relevant. My house is my home. My garage is my home. My yard is my home. My garden shed is my home. My attic is my home. In all these places, I expect there to be no-one present without my knowledge and invitation, and I expect to be able to move about freely and safely. (I don't actually have a lot of those places, but if I did, they would be part of my home :)

I know a lot of people have being saying that it happened "in his house", which is not a correct description, but I don't think their point is changed by amending that to "in his home", which is a correct description.

I interpret emerging details to suggest that the student intended to keep the man in place long enough for the police (who were still within earshot) to run back and apprehend him. I think that that course of action is very stupid, in that it sets up conflict and so invites escalation, but I'm not sure that it's ethically wrong when the intention was containment, not escalation. Just dumb. And sometimes, dumb has consequences. :-(
posted by -harlequin- at 3:03 PM on September 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


What I find distressing about this is that this would seem to teach the burglar that so long as they aren't threatening, they can invade homes and take what they like.

Teach the burglar? Really?

Look, people are going to do what they have to do to survive, including not trying to be a reckless hero. Do you think the employee policies at convenience stores teach robbers it's OK to rob them? Because those policies all say, give the robber all the money, and your life is not worth the cash in the register.
posted by krinklyfig at 3:07 PM on September 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


Too much crime? The threat of crime is like the #1 shitty element of living in this society for most people.

Right, but the perceived risk and the actual risk are two totally different things. I know plenty of dudes that have laid away a small arsenal because they're convinced they're going to be the victims of a home invasion at their house in the suburbs.
posted by electroboy at 3:10 PM on September 18, 2009


Having been almost killed along with my sister by people robbing our home when we were just 12 years old, I say good riddance.
posted by autodidact at 3:11 PM on September 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


"In some cultures today and in history, authorities would cut off the hands of criminals. How did the authorities keep from killing the criminal (or did they)?"

Pretty easy to prevent shock from sudden blood pressure loss with a tourniquet used beforehand. Also prevents further loss. And there are a number of coagulants that have been used since ancient times (yarrow, henna, other styptics or moss, etc). The Arabs used rustyback ferns, St. John's wort et.al. for wounds, although I'm unfamiliar with the cultural specifics.
posted by Smedleyman at 3:13 PM on September 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


I interpret emerging details to suggest that the student intended to keep the man in place long enough for the police (who were still within earshot) to run back and apprehend him

Yup. From the video it appears the intruder was cornered by the student.

An odd situation that one should not put oneself in, but these circumstances happen. Lethal force in this situation is morally questionable, but I don't see any criminality or manslaughter angle here.

IANAL of course but I think the student was within his rights to attempt to detain the intruder. If in fact the intruder moved towards the student, then the student was within his rights to stand his ground.

If the student just ran up and started whaling on the guy (even if the guy was eg. attempting to climb the fence to escape), then that's a different situation.
posted by Palamedes at 3:17 PM on September 18, 2009


I know plenty of dudes that have laid away a small arsenal because they're convinced they're going to be the victims of a home invasion at their house in the suburbs.

Chances are not infinitesimal that this will happen. Over a lifetime, crime will eventually find you. At any rate the payoff for being prepared is pretty good relative to the costs, assuming one practices proper gun safety at all times.
posted by Palamedes at 3:20 PM on September 18, 2009


>An interesting addition to this is that my husband's sensei knows Pontolillo's sensei...

That's interesting, and actually contradicts some of what I've heard. Has either sensei sooken to the media?

I would be interested to know why he chose to pick up a blade rather than a stick though - if he had taken enough classes to buy an actual sword, he could have had the ability to take down someone with a stick.

Yeah, you could beat somebody senseless with a boken, but if I had any kind of concern I'd grab the most lethal thing at hand. Why handicap yourself?

>As CHT says, the first thing you learn in kenjutsu is the basic stance, with the sword held out and the tip pointing at your opponent's throat. The most basic offensive/defensive move is to let him or her impale him/herself on it in a poorly-executed attack.

That's true, but I was assuming someone without any training at all. The tendency would be to hold the blade in approximately basic stance, but pointing too high up. (Over the opponent's head.) Thus an instinctive thrust would be preceded by a slash, which might explain the injuries Rice received.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 3:27 PM on September 18, 2009


but if I had any kind of concern I'd grab the most lethal thing at hand.

Because killing is wrong.
posted by Palamedes at 3:29 PM on September 18, 2009


>Because killing is wrong.

No, being killed is wrong.

The rest is debatable.

On account of you're still alive.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 3:34 PM on September 18, 2009 [11 favorites]


While I only know martial arts from wuxia movies, IMHO with the respective proper training, a bo is a better tool for the job of protecting one's life and preserving the general welfare than a katana.

In this particular situation, with a suspicious person cornered, a bo in the proper hands would have kept said person in place until the police arrived. One's options with a sword are much more limited; it is really an inappropriate weapon for most circumstances in civilized society.
posted by Palamedes at 3:42 PM on September 18, 2009


However, the sword guy didn't help stop the blood flow after the intruder was injured and obviously no longer a threat? That is cold, immoral, and worst, just plain rude.

Actually, according to some law enforcement friends of mine this is the absolute best thing to do, especially in the good, old "sue-happy" USA. No living burglar? No civil trial.

(I'm not saying I totally agree, just passing along some conversation about this topic that occured at the office today)
posted by jkaczor at 3:43 PM on September 18, 2009


real life example
posted by Palamedes at 3:45 PM on September 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


crap, nude manbutt NSFW above!
posted by Palamedes at 3:46 PM on September 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


Look, people are going to do what they have to do to survive, including not trying to be a reckless hero. Do you think the employee policies at convenience stores teach robbers it's OK to rob them? Because those policies all say, give the robber all the money, and your life is not worth the cash in the register.

The stores have that policy because they don't want their employees getting hurt (lawsuit). For the first time in my life, I saw stores with private security when I lived in D.C. Somehow I don't think they're told to do nothing if they see someone ripping off the store.

I don't think it's fair to blame the victim here. It's not my job, as the victim of a crime, to teach the perpetrator of the crime a lesson about right and wrong. If someone comes into my house and steals my laptop, I'll put in a claim on my homeowners insurance and get reimbursed. I'm not going to do anything that will make it more likely for me to get into any kind of physical altercation with them, let alone kill them, and it's unreasonable for anyone to expect me to just because it sends a message that crime doesn't pay.


I wouldn't say I'm blaming the victim, but the choice they'd make. I suppose I have a fierce sense of property rights combined with a sense of conviction that people should respect the rights of others. It's a failure of our own society that there are people who believe the only way they can prosper is by harming others.
posted by Atreides at 3:52 PM on September 18, 2009


One's options with a sword are much more limited; it is really an inappropriate weapon for most circumstances in civilized society.

I have it on good authority that a lightsword is a rather elegant weapon for a more civilized age.
posted by Atreides at 3:54 PM on September 18, 2009 [4 favorites]


That's interesting Smedleyman. I trained under an Eskrimador who practice with two or three inch blades but would choke up on it until maybe a half inch was visible. He practiced taking small moon divots out of material. The intent was, if he so choose to, he could use the knife in a fairly benign way but could make someone bleed. And point it out to them if need be. Of course he had the skill and knowledge to be able to do this so I don't suggest people practice it, but if anybody is wondering he held the blade flat between the pads of his thumb and index finger.

In this particular situation, with a suspicious person cornered, a bo in the proper hands would have kept said person in place until the police arrived. One's options with a sword are much more limited; it is really an inappropriate weapon for most circumstances in civilized society.

From experience, I would emphatically disagree. A person with proper training could use the blunt side of sword. Besides, if he was a student he had other options with his practice sword available.

But...he didn't. I think nobody involved really thought through their actions here and this is what came of it.
posted by P.o.B. at 3:56 PM on September 18, 2009


For God's sake, no TV is worth a man's life.

How do I know what the idiot is here for? Perhaps he is crazy, perhaps on some mind-altering substance, perhaps he wants to rape my wife, daughter?
posted by jkaczor at 3:56 PM on September 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


who *would* practice with *a* two or three inch blade
posted by P.o.B. at 3:58 PM on September 18, 2009


The stores have that policy because they don't want their employees getting hurt (lawsuit).

I understand that part well enough, but beyond establishing that the point is not about whether you're teaching a burglar something by your actions, it's not really relevant to what I was saying.
posted by krinklyfig at 3:59 PM on September 18, 2009


Unfortunately, I can't choose what other people do. I can choose what I do, and if I ever find myself with a home invader on my hands, I will do my darndest to prevent the deaths of any of the involved parties, including the invader.

It's great that you are so highly evolved and will not simply act out of fear or primal instinct - after all, we are primates and they wouldn't put-up with an unwanted intruder.

So tell me, you have rock-solid control in situations like these - are you highly trained in negotiation techniques? Law enforcement? Military?

How many times have you put your internet-armchair-theories to practice?
posted by jkaczor at 4:08 PM on September 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


Just curious: Am I the only who is reminded of the fictional character, John Rain, after reading Smedleyman’s analysis?
posted by JeNeSaisQuoi at 4:09 PM on September 18, 2009


What you don't get is my point. The points being that (i) your property is not more valuable than a human life - any human life, and (ii) the idea that burglars actually deserve to be killed is pretty morally dubious.

Should we ask them nicely to wear signs on their chests which tell us that:
- I am a burgler, with "x" convictions and no violent history
- I am a serial rapist
- I've murdered 5 people

See... someone strange in my house, advancing on me - I have no idea of their intent, I have no idea of their mental state of mind.

So - at that point - in my mind, is my life worth less than theirs? Should theirs be more valuable than mine.

You argue from the safety of a keyboard - I wonder how your values would live out in the real world.
posted by jkaczor at 4:13 PM on September 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


So tell me, you have rock-solid control in situations like these - are you highly trained in negotiation techniques? Law enforcement? Military?

In a situation like this, all the training you'd need would be in how to dial the phone. To call the police. Who had just stopped by to tell you there was a suspicious person in the area. Beyond that, staying the fuck in the house.
posted by electroboy at 4:15 PM on September 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


About twenty years ago I was robbed.

It was a professional affair. I'd invested in quite a bit of stuff at auction; it was the old RTC, legacy of Bush the Smarter and his wonder son Neil, and they were selling gold jewelry at salvage melt cost and gemstones far below scale. The robber got my information from the auction signin paperwork and went looking for exactly what he knew I had; he passed over, even tossed aside some rather valuable stuff in digging for the goods he wanted.

The cops were worse than useless. We knew it was a pro from outside our sketchy neighborhood, but they found some local crackhead they wanted to intimidate and tried to pin it on him. It was clear our stuff would never be recovered.

No violence or possibility of violence was involved. The guy was a pro, obviously knew our habits and broke in when he knew we would be out for awhile.

I thought a lot about what I would have done if I'd come across the asshole in the months while I was earning back what he stole from me. It was quite simple. I would have killed him. I would have killed him with any means possible, without regard for other consequences. Of course I was young then and recently violated and I know better today, but I serously considered some highly illegal booby traps before sanity intervened. (This was before the Castle Doctrine arrived, even in Louisiana.)

I would not react that way today, but I'm a much older and hopefully wiser person. If you undertake to rob someone though, you have to deal with the fact that they might react that way. I believe that is the natural human reaction.

Colin Wilson begins A Criminal History of Mankind with a rather remarkable assertion, that the very idea of criminality is quite modern. Go back far enough -- and it's not very far in the great scheme of things -- and you reach a point where the only defense against theft was the willingness to defend your stuff with violence if necessary, where villages were often located far inland because of piracy. In much nearer history it was considered quite just to blow away the asshole violating your property, and the idea that life is so precious that even robbers deserve consideration is extremely modern. The fraction of the world where it's caught on is rather small, and parts of that fraction have been moving backward (cf. all the states enshrining the Castle Doctrine in their laws recently) because really, when you get where the short hairs grow, people don't think that way. Not unless they are very carefully educated.

In an abstract intellectual sense you can make the argument that killing the dude with a katana is a bad thing, particularly if you've gone to the trouble to root him out and corner him. But most people, unless they have carefully burned out this instinct, will react to being violated with violence. This is natural and normal if not, in a bloodless analysis, good.

If you make it your business to rob people, it would be a good idea to consider this. As a relatively nonviolent person who for a period 20 years ago seriously wondered how to set up a rig that would automatically kill someone breaking in through a window, this is my advice. And if you want to punish people for reacting that way, you might as well follow up by figuring out how to tax breathing.
posted by localroger at 4:16 PM on September 18, 2009 [17 favorites]


What's David Simon's take on all this?
posted by klangklangston at 4:18 PM on September 18, 2009


>IMHO with the respective proper training, a bo is a better tool for the job of protecting one's life and preserving the general welfare than a katana.

Better for disabling without grievous bodily harm, but other than that it has few advantages, especially in an urban setting. Although you could probably carry one openly, which would count for a lot.

>How do I know what the idiot is here for? Perhaps he is crazy, perhaps on some mind-altering substance...

In Baltimore? Preposterous!
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 4:21 PM on September 18, 2009


In a situation like this, all the training you'd need would be in how to dial the phone. To call the police. Who had just stopped by to tell you there was a suspicious person in the area. Beyond that, staying the fuck in the house.

I don't have a katana, gun or any other weapon - and if someone was threatening me or my family I have absolutely no idea what I would do - hopefully I could distract them long enough to let someone else call 911.

Living in the city, I would not go searching through the garage/yard for a suspected intruder - so I agree there.

Living in a rural area? Another story entirely.

This case is definately not as "cut & dry" as it was first reported.

Everyone who is moralizing one way or another in this thread has absolutely no freaking clue exactly what they would do in a similar situation - it's all just bluster and attitude.
posted by jkaczor at 4:23 PM on September 18, 2009


I thought display swords were generally shitty and dull. Maybe just the ones I've looked at?

My impression has been the opposite - forged steel has a dull color, and forged steel blades are often unpolished, whereas blades made for display always look great because that's what they're for - they're designed to be bright and shiny and non-corroding, so they're often chrome or nickel plating over some soft easily-worked metal. Similarly, rust is a sign of steel, so would suggest "not so much for display"

So to my mind, the shittier it looks, the more it may be the case that it's built with function over form in mind, instead of form over function.

(With a foot in both camps is stainless steel; it's bright and rust-free and low-maintenance, so it's good for display, and is fairly strong, though not strong enough :-)
posted by -harlequin- at 4:26 PM on September 18, 2009


I thought display swords were generally shitty and dull. Maybe just the ones I've looked at?

Depends on the local laws. I'm pretty sure up here in the frozen north, anything legally available for sale is a replica, intended for display purposes only. If you attempt to sharpen them you will just waste your time - they won't hold an edge.
posted by jkaczor at 4:28 PM on September 18, 2009


It's great that you are so highly evolved and will not simply act out of fear or primal instinct - after all, we are primates and they wouldn't put-up with an unwanted intruder. So tell me, you have rock-solid control in situations like these - are you highly trained in negotiation techniques? Law enforcement? Military?

You argue from the safety of a keyboard - I wonder how your values would live out in the real world.

Everyone who is moralizing one way or another in this thread has absolutely no freaking clue exactly what they would do in a similar situation - it's all just bluster and attitude.

Data point: six years ago my home was broken into in the middle of the night. I felt fear. But the terror and uncertainty didn't put my conscience on ice. I felt no sudden justification to grab a weapon or raise a hand against a fellow human being.

Was there anything stopping John Pontolillo from running away? No.
Doubt or potential loss of property does not justify violence. Preposterous.
posted by Izner Myletze at 4:30 PM on September 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


"Was there anything stopping John Pintolillo from running away?"

Why should he have to run away from his own home? You don't live in the real world.
posted by autodidact at 4:40 PM on September 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


Why should he have to run away from his own home?

Dude escalated a situation by unwittingly (?) cornering the prowler guy. His lease gives him the exclusive right to use the property, but not unlimited hunting rights a la "The Most Dangerous Game".

He could have backed off and let the guy go, but as I said above I don't think that was a moral obligation or anything.
posted by Palamedes at 4:56 PM on September 18, 2009


Not that Japan is a perfect country, free of all crime, but the Firearms and Sword Law here is freakishly strict. In daily life, I have absolutely no fear that someone I encounter will be armed. Reading all of the comments about what people would do if someone broke into their house, ranging from people who might have never really thought about it before now to some mefites who have clearly planned/fantasized about it, I'm struck by the amount of fear necessary, as a part of daily life in America, that requires those things.

I can't tell you how nice it is to be able to walk around late at night/stay out late in the city with friends with no fear. One reason, perhaps, why I don't have to be afraid? I'm a big foreigner. If guns were freely available here, would I have that on my side? Probably not. With a gun, someone Marissa Stole the Precious Thing (5'7"/135) suddenly becomes incredibly powerful, rather than someone who can be safely ignored.

Why do I bring this up? Well, Pontolillo will most likely be scarred for the rest of his life, if not actually put in jail, because the likelihood of someone having a gun made him feel that he should grab his sword. He didn't know if the guy was unarmed, so he had to assume the intruder was carrying something. As I said, it's nice to go outside and be pretty sure that no one around me is carrying a lethal weapon.
posted by Ghidorah at 4:59 PM on September 18, 2009 [5 favorites]


Doubt or potential loss of property does not justify violence.

Good for you - you reacted in your own, individual way - it's great that everything worked out... FOR YOU. Unfortunately for most of humanty - violence is hardwired into our reactions. It is as natural as love and happiness.

We are still just another crude biological machine.

We are not simply talking about the potential loss of property - we are talking about being in a threatening situation. I notice a common reaction with everyone in this thread decrying reaction with violence over the "loss of property" conviently ignores the fact that you have ABSOLUTELY NO IDEA HOW THE INTRUDER WILL REACT TO YOUR PRESCENCE.

It's great that you have a policy of non-violence. Will they?
posted by jkaczor at 5:00 PM on September 18, 2009


You want to talk "civilized" behaviour?

Exactly which of the individuals in the Pintolillo situation had pre-meditated intent?

Was it Pintolillo, who was reacting to an unfolding situation with stress, adrenaline and fear?

Or was it the "victim" who planned and created the situation in the first place?
posted by jkaczor at 5:05 PM on September 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


So tell me, you have rock-solid control in situations like these - are you highly trained in negotiation techniques? Law enforcement? Military?

How many times have you put your internet-armchair-theories to practice?
jkaczor

No, no, no, and never. However, I do believe in preserving life, and I do not believe in revenge. Of course I can't predict exactly how I'd react in a home invasion, but I can say how I'd like to react, and how I will try my best to react: with a cool head, and with an eye towards preserving life where possible.

Obviously, some people would TRY to act differently. Multiple people have said that if they had a criminal dying in their living room, they'd let him die. Again, do those folks have rock solid control? Can they guarantee they wouldn't go running for the first aid kit (or the high hills) as soon as the blood hit the floor? Unless they have unusual experience, they can't guarantee anything of the sort. All they can do is lay out their expectations and hopes.

You seem to fail to understand that the argument is not self-defence techniques; it's a question of mercy. Does a home invader automatically forfeit his right to leave your house alive. I say no, that one should try to save him if there's an opportunity; my priority is on preserving life, no matter whose it is. Others say yes, let the motherfucker die; their priority is in self defense and vengeance.

I've got to say, I don't really know what you're getting at. I'm a primate so I should kill everyone that crosses me? Are only highly trained negotiators and military personnel allowed to show mercy? I think you're trying to poke holes in the wrong balloon.


the buddha and mahatma gandhi are two of the most influential figures informing my personal worldview. i try to live my life, though with many human lapses, based on their teachings of compassion and nonviolence.

in these cases the caring option is rendered moot. clarenceism

These statements are almost (though not quite) mutually exclusive. The whole point of virtues such as compassion, non-violence and mercy is that you don't get to choose when you use them: they're always in effect, especially if it's inconvenient. I take issue with your use of the phrase "non-violence" in particular, as it has a very specific meaning: if someone hits you, you don't hit them back, no matter what. The true practitioner of non-violence would rather die than introduce more violence to the world.

I wish I had the guts to practice that, but I don't, so I make do with minimizing the violence I commit. That includes potentially saving the life of someone who has tried to take my stuff or even kill me, if their life should happen to end up in my hands.
posted by Commander Rachek at 5:15 PM on September 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


If Portolillo had used a blade with less mystique, such as a machete or a Chinese cleaver (heavy and sharp -- can cut poultry bones), would there now be a fan site and a Metafilter thread?
posted by bad grammar at 5:20 PM on September 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


Was it Pintolillo, who was reacting to an unfolding situation with stress, adrenaline and fear?
Or was it the "victim" who planned and created the situation in the first place?


you are operating with waaay too many assumptions here. Feel free to create hypothetical situations and we'll discuss.

It's great that you have a policy of non-violence. Will they?

If we law-abiding folk could fight back with all the postured internet-tough-guy sloganeering the urban element wouldn't have a chance.
posted by Palamedes at 5:23 PM on September 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


We are not simply talking about the potential loss of property - we are talking about being in a threatening situation. I notice a common reaction with everyone in this thread decrying reaction with violence over the "loss of property" conviently ignores the fact that you have ABSOLUTELY NO IDEA HOW THE INTRUDER WILL REACT TO YOUR PRESCENCE.

I don't ignore it. I address it quite directly, as do others. I have no problem with using violence to protect myself. If he hits me first, I will hit him back. If I should happen to sever one of his arteries in the process, I'll also gladly hold a towel on the wound until the EMTs arrive, assuming he doesn't continue to be violent. What's wrong with that? Just that I might come to physical harm doing so? I'd rather die doing the right thing than condemn someone else to death.

It's great that you have a policy of non-violence. Will they?

As I say above, I am not non-violent in the strict sense, but I do think it is great to minimize death and violence. I'm sorry if you don't feel the same way.
posted by Commander Rachek at 5:32 PM on September 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


"urban element"?
posted by electroboy at 5:33 PM on September 18, 2009


Ghidorah: "I can't tell you how nice it is to be able to walk around late at night/stay out late in the city with friends with no fear. One reason, perhaps, why I don't have to be afraid? I'm a big foreigner."

I don't know. It might have something to do with the three lightning-breathing heads, not just birth nation.

I believe in covering all possible contingencies I might be judged on later. That's why when I hear a noise and investigate, I bring several weapons so I can adjust proportionality of response, and also a medical crash cart with several units of O negative blood.
posted by Drastic at 5:37 PM on September 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


“The intent was, if he so choose to, he could use the knife in a fairly benign way but could make someone bleed.”

Yeah, shallow head wounds bleed profusely, blind (and so inhibit) and aren’t really deadly away from the temples. Pro-wrasslers bled themselves that way a lot. Pretty scary if you’re not familiar with it. And a good way to get someone to back down – especially if you give them the options.

“I think the student was within his rights to attempt to detain the intruder. If in fact the intruder moved towards the student, then the student was within his rights to stand his ground.”

Legally I can see it. Mostly because we don’t know what was in this guy’s heart either. And citizen’s arrests are lawful. I don’t know that I’d have killed the guy though in my backyard. To wit:

“Perhaps he is crazy, perhaps on some mind-altering substance, perhaps he wants to rape my wife, daughter?’

The swordman in question had cornered the criminal, not vice versa.
Attempting to arrest him while wielding a sword…well, ok. But killing him…dunno. I can’t say given the circumstances, lot of ‘if’s.
On the one hand, I think under some circumstances retreating is a bad idea. Under others, perhaps more acceptable. All depends on the criminal. If he lunged at me, I’d kill him. If he lunged trying to get away – tougher call (because - well *is* he trying to get away?).

“So tell me, you have rock-solid control in situations like these - are you highly trained in negotiation techniques?”

But that’s precisely the flaw here. In the preparation. He sought the engagement. His preparation was, apparently, sword training and the sword. So he knew, or should have known, that he would react how he was trained and that lethal force might have been necessary for him to use.
So – knowing that, do you call the cops back again or go out into the backyard looking for the guy with a sword in your hand?
All I’m asking is - was the engagement absolutely necessary? Doesn't look to me as though it was.
But again, I don’t know for sure it was or wasn’t, but he didn’t seem to gather all the resources available to him to have the greatest control over the outcome of the situation.
It certainly doesn’t seem to me he prepared properly. Only seems like he prepared for one outcome – the necessity to use lethal force in defending himself. And that strikes me as irresponsible.

Time and again I’ve made the case, when championing gun rights, that it’s the man not the weapon that is the factor.
Well, that goes both ways. If guns themselves aren’t the problem, if it’s the reaction of the individual that’s the problem and the degree of control over the situation and the training that matters – then that holds for guns, knives, swords, bats, the neighborhood watch, whatever tool is at hand especially given there’s no immediacy there forced by the intruder.

And there was implicit aggression sure, but not immediate aggression. Guy was hiding.
So it seems this outcome was forced by the guy with the sword even though the burglar initiated it.
I mean hey, yeah, you do what you can to protect yourself and your family and use whatever means at your disposal – but this guy had the time and the luxury of controlling the situation more fully. He should have made use of it.

To be clear I’m not involving myself in the ‘justified or not’ argument. It should be fairly clear that if I’m Joe Burglar and I’m hiding and armed with a firearm and some guy with a sword is closing on my position and is clearly going to find me I’m going to shoot him.
So logically, if I’m Joe Sword, I’m going to want as much beef on my side as possible. Again – police, probably a better option given the lack of immediate threat.
And a lot of folks are treating this as though this case was an immediate threat. That is, potentially aggressive intruder in your home. It wasn't. And circumstances dictate the nature of the engagement.
Given a choice of whether to initiate the engagement, or whether I can dictate the conditions of the engagement, I'll take the control over conditions every time (Abraham Lincoln chose calvary broadswords in a pit. Smart thinking there.)

“In much nearer history it was considered quite just to blow away the asshole violating your property, and the idea that life is so precious that even robbers deserve consideration is extremely modern.”

Huh. Most other studies would completely disagree with that. The murder rate is what, 6 for every 100,000 a year despite all the hate around?
In nearer history many infantrymen would not kill without training and even then the firing rate in, f’rinstance, the Civil War was fairly low. This increased slightly over the years and got pretty high (though training) in Vietnam.
Seems to me the shift was in socioeconomics not ferocity. We have more of a luxury in that we can house and feed prisoners. So too – given one has the option not to kill, it seems a shame not to avail oneself of it. I’m not exactly refuting your proposition per se, but in the selected bit about human violence, I’ll take military historian Richard Holmes’ studies (and, say, examples on the firing rate in the Fauklands War) over Colin Wilson’s work.

Not to disparage the latter, and not to say the idea overall isn’t interesting, but there’s a pretty wide difference between a study backed by data by a scholar on the subject of violence in general and war specifically and propositions supported by historical example.

Most humans do not have the instinct to kill. Most humans fight like small hairless bears when cornered and will do as much damage as possible to end whatever threat their facing and certainly it’s an instinct to protect one’s family. That is instinctual violence to be sure which might result in killing. But killing, such as it is, takes effort. And, as with any effort, is made more efficacious by training and preparation.

There’s a difference in preparing to kill if necessary as one facet of exerting control over a situation and understanding the implications in exercising that option as a means to an end and preparing oneself only for the option of killing.
I’ve been accused of the latter a number of times. But it’s the former that differentiates the user of legitimate force.

Again – among the creatures on earth humans are the most pathological and violent breed, yes. But all things considered, we’re born not looking to go out of our way to off one another.
Makes our social systems all the more critical really. And I have to agree with the folks that are saying vigilantism harms the system. But that's more generally speaking.
posted by Smedleyman at 5:44 PM on September 18, 2009 [4 favorites]


I don't own a gun. The laws here don't permit it, but even if they did, I wouldn't own one.

I do have experience of being burgled though. Here, one of the first things a burglar will do on entering a house is put a pan of water onto the stove. If he gets disturbed in the middle of the act, you're getting that pan of boiling water all over you to give him time to escape.

Burglary doesn't just happen once to most houses. Once they've been in and scored, they're coming back. Sometimes, they'll do it again and again. A colleague was forced to move recently after his fourth burglary in six months. The police told him it was the only way to deal with the problem.

Another friend had his ex-wives house broken into while she and his children were out. The burglar appears to have spent a couple of hours in the house, waiting for the occupants to return. Eventually, he appears to have got bored and left, but the police were fairly certain that he'd been lying in wait for the occupants to return, with the intention of either raping or menacing them in the hope of getting more money. My friend's wife was so disturbed by the incident that she left her house, left her job and emigrated.

Burglary and home invasion is a form of terrorism. For many people, once it happens, they never feel safe in their homes again. The people who commit these crimes rely on that type of intimidation to avoid apprehension. They really don't give a flying fuck about the victims, or the consequence of their actions on the victims lives.

So no, I don't own a gun and I've no desire to own one. But I know that if I encountered a burglary on my property and he was heading towards me rather than heading away from me, then I'd use whatever weapon I had at hand to defend myself. To take away his ability to retaliate. And no, I wouldn't be bending over him, administering first aid. You give up any right to that kind of consideration when you take it upon yourself to terrorize me and mine.

And I'm pretty sure I'd spend a lot of miserable time agonizing about whether I'd done the right thing or not, if something like this happened to me. But I know I've got no business whatsoever judging this guy for what he did in this situation. When you invade someone else's property, it's like declaring an act of war on them. You can't whine about it when that person gets the drop on you. If you don't like it, then the solution is easy -- you stay the fuck out of other people's property unless you're invited.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 5:49 PM on September 18, 2009 [6 favorites]


Y’know, some folks in threads like this and the Somali pirates getting killed by snipers thread are the reason assheads think people like myself go and high five each other and drink beer after -actually- killing someone. I mean hell, my first thought in that thread (beyond the ninja vs. pirate thing) was that it was a shame the pirates put themselves in such a situation where they were dead to rights. Probably out of ignorance. Same thinking here except on the side of the aggressor. Maybe it had to happen this way. But it’s still a shame that the sword wielder put himself in such a situation.
posted by Smedleyman at 5:50 PM on September 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


I was driving down the street one day, and saw someone take a rock to a van of a contractor. I pulled into the driveway, looked around in my car and saw the 24 inch grass cutting shears I used to cut fresh grass for the pet rabbit.

Others still smile at re-telling of the story of me, charging the would be thief with these 24 inch shears at his neck height making a 'schick schick' noise as I charged the bastard yelling 'stop thief'.

Chased 'em for a block - no passers by thought to trip him or try to detain said would be thief. (so much for yelling 'stop thief')

But I'll remind you that the Supreme Court had decided that the police are under no obligation to protect you.
Calling the police is not enough. You must also be ready to defend yourself.
Perhaps Mr. Pontolillo is aware of the opinions of the Supreme Court.
posted by rough ashlar at 5:51 PM on September 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


I totally disagree -- mercy and compassion are very much conscious choices. And that's good, because you can take credit for those traits when you display them. Confronting an intruder -- this is probably one of those things where most people will just fly by the seat of their pants and do what feels right or logical at the time. For some people, that'll mean they flee. Some will grab a weapon and attack. Some might just try a civil discussion: "Hey, why do you have my TV on your back? And who are you anyway?"

I'm reasonably sure I'd do whatever would be most likely to leave my alive -- that's what I've always done when in stressful situations. When my mom was driving drunk, I tried to talk her into pulling over, then I tried yelling at her, then I tried guilting her and when none of that worked, I crawled into the back, hunkered down and waited for the inevitable crash, and that saved my life (mom died though). When me and another guy found signs of a person entering a cave during the invasion of Grenada, we yelled in English and Spanish to come out, but heard no response, so we tossed a grenade in there and left. (We didn't want to look and see because A) if there was a body, it would've been horrifyingly gory, and B) if we did kill some Cuban soldier, and we knew about it, then that would have entailed paperwork and administrative hassles.) When a Turkish family was stalking me in Izmir, to commit violence on me over a failed entrapment scheme, I spent nearly six months sleeping in a different place every night, a kind of organized long-term retreat.

Basically, for me, survival is the name of the game. Not honor or mercy or compassion, unless those things serve the greater purpose of enhancing my survival chances. If it makes more sense (in terms of my survival) to retreat from an intruder, then I will retreat. If it makes more sense to go on the offense, then I will do that. I'm totally flexible, and just want to keep breathing. If me continuing to live means an intruder's life must be sacrificed, that's okay with me, though I wouldn't say that's the *preferred* outcome. But if that's the best option I have, then that's just the way it is.

You'd have to be crazy to break into my house anyway though -- Special Forces-trained ex-soldier with PTSD. I should make a sign that says that and hang it on my front door. Heh.
posted by jamstigator at 5:56 PM on September 18, 2009 [4 favorites]


I don't own a gun. The laws here don't permit it

No wonder burglary is so common where you live.
posted by 0xdeadc0de at 5:57 PM on September 18, 2009


Man, I'm super glad I've never had to kill anybody.
posted by Divine_Wino at 6:14 PM on September 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


No wonder burglary is so common where you live.

Well, to be fair, I've compressed about thirty years of burglary stories into two minutes. But the two incidents that happened to other people are both things I was told in the last month.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 6:15 PM on September 18, 2009


Also, we're pretty confident that when the burglars do come, they aren't going to be armed with firearms. That's a trade-off we're generally happy to live with.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 6:27 PM on September 18, 2009


I totally disagree -- mercy and compassion are very much conscious choices. And that's good, because you can take credit for those traits when you display them.

Of course they're choices; but only choosing to use them when it's easy really doesn't count.

I'm not trying to say that I don't value my own survival, believe me that's pretty damn high on my list of priorities. But I also happen to value morals; if I can't at least try to live as a good person, I'm not sure there's much point in living.

I'm not really trying to say that if someone attacks you you ought to just lie down and take it; ultimately, that's the most morally correct thing you could do, I think, but it's unreasonable. I like being alive too much to do that. My problem is with the idea that home invaders always and automatically forfeit their right to life simply by breaking into your home, even after they have become incapacitated. Even if they've attempted or committed murder, it's not worth killing them if you have a choice.

I appreciate that you choose to put survival first, jamstigator, and I suppose that's your prerogative. The laws allow it, as they should. But does that really mean you'd refuse life-saving aid to a petty burglar? I find that hard to believe, and quite distressing. I don't care if he's a leech, I always put life first. Forgive me that seems naive; you speak from a wider and very different set of experiences than I do.

You should totally get that sign made, by the way; that would be awesome. Here's hoping it does its job for you, so you don't have to follow through on it.
posted by Commander Rachek at 6:31 PM on September 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


Instead of wading through the pros and cons of killing a thief, I'll go away now and enjoy my Saturday. Taking moments here and there to vomit my heart out onto the nasty fucking Earth.
posted by Gamien Boffenburg at 6:35 PM on September 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


but only choosing to use them when it's easy really doesn't count

Everything counts, all the time. Otherwise it wouldn't count.
posted by scrutiny at 6:47 PM on September 18, 2009


Did Pontolillo consider using a hammer, baseball bat, or chainsaw before he decided on the katana?
posted by kirkaracha at 6:53 PM on September 18, 2009 [7 favorites]


This morning, without any warning, a very big man I don't know walked round the back of my house, opened the door, and walked into my kitchen.

I get the feeling that if I'd been some of the people here, I'd have shot him in the face...

...and then gone outside and discovered the bathroom suite he was trying to deliver...


What a rude deliveryman. Who walks in without knocking? Or at least shouting "hello" and identifying themselves the moment they open the door?

Had it been me, he almost certainly would not have gotten shot. Or even had a gun waved in his face. He would have happily identified himself when asked, and we would have walked right out to have a look at the stuff he was delivering.

But you better believe that I'd've had my pistol concealed on my person during at least the initial investigation. If I'd shot a dude delivering my furniture, I'd probably be a wreck for months or years (regardless of whether I was convicted of manslaughter). If I killed someone who was actually invading my property with intent to commit a crime (and who knows up front what that crime would be), it would undoubtedly traumatize me deeply. It would be tempered with at least some feeling that I had protected myself and my wife and my cats.

But, frankly, I'd rather agonize over taking a life and see a therapist for a while than, um, be dead. And right there, right when the guy did whatever he did with the katana, he was probably scared shitless and legitimately thought he might die. And I think it's quite reasonable to believe that Katana Guy knew he couldn't overpower the crook hand-to-hand and could be killed in the fight. So, he used the force equalizer he had on hand. It was, perhaps, too strong a response. But I really doubt he thought he was going to kill anybody... I can't assume he'd tried chopping somebody with a sword before, and we see relatively few sword-related injuries in the states.
posted by Netzapper at 6:54 PM on September 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


What would have happened if Rice had had a pistol? Wouldn't he have shot Pontolillo the minute he saw him with a sword? To me, Pontolillo just brought a (long) knife to a potential gunfight. Not that I deny the deadliness of knives and swords, especially in trained hands (I know nothing about them), but his original plan (detain burglar who might have a gun with a sword) seems kind of stupid, on a pure "my own survival is most important" scale.

Also, what do we know about burglaries and home invasions? Are they lucrative? What do the thieves do with their booty? Are there large reselling networks, or is it pretty ad-hoc?
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 6:55 PM on September 18, 2009


I do not know if this was posted yet BUT

MARTINSBURG - The popular online social networking site Facebook helped lead to an alleged burglar's arrest after he stopped check his account on the victim's computer, but forgot to log out before leaving the home with two diamond rings.

posted by rough ashlar at 7:02 PM on September 18, 2009


I've never been robbed or threatened, so I don't really have any experience in how these things go down, but I just looked around the room, and there are plenty of things I could use to hurt someone pretty bad were I so inclined. I've got a 1.5 foot piece of a metal frame behind me that I could brain somebody with, got me some alcohol-based bug repellent that looks like it would burn pretty well, got some ashtrays I could chuck, electrical wires I could unroll and use like a whip, a shattered glass panel full of very lethal shards, a pipe lamp that would make a nice bludgeon, some metal chopstick-looking hairpins about 6" long that could stab pretty deep...

I don't see any freakin' reason to own a sword. Even if you're training with one, just take the stick home. I mean, really, there's no reason to have these tools around that enable murder. A brick, a self-defense class, and a big dog are far more effective than a gun in a safe.
posted by saysthis at 7:07 PM on September 18, 2009


I have a bad feeling about this case. For a katana to cut someone's hand off, it probably was a real katana - not one of those cheap replicas that a lot of guys feel the need to get during that short period after getting enough money to being able to afford one and before realizing how stupid they make you look. It's not that I don't think you could kill someone with a replica, but I doubt they'd sever limbs, not without a long deliberate chop which I doubt Rice let him take (and I don't know if they'd do it without breaking, either.) So Pontolillo cared enough to get a real katana, which are certainly harder to find and much more expensive. And then he treated it as an actual weapon, carrying it to investigate noises which were likely to result in a confrontation - also a bad sign.

It's really hard to know, but I think there's a substantial chance that Pontolillo really was one of those 'make my day' kind of guys. Perhaps he cornered Rice, who tried to lunge past him and flee, and was cut down. I doubt they'll be able to prove it even if it did occur, though.
posted by Mitrovarr at 7:18 PM on September 18, 2009


Smedleyman -- you erroneously conflate criminality with war.

War is generally conducted by people who don't want to be there and don't feel personally threatened unless they are victims of a really successful propaganda campaign. People don't want to kill other warriors because really, they don't have a beef with those other people except for what some authority in the sky has told them to honor.

Having your home invaded and your personal stuff, which you have expended years of your life accumulating, stolen is quite different and you react to it much more as if it is a personal affront.

And while it is true that Wilson was a big believer in the occult, he is probably also the greatest historian in living memory of true crime. ACHOM was his attempt, flawed in some ways and brilliant in many others, to bring all of his experience together.
posted by localroger at 7:25 PM on September 18, 2009


It's unfortunate that we don't have many choices when it comes to short range, non-lethal, incapacitating defense tools. Other than a cell phone. If Hiro Protagonist had a bean bag gun nobody would be in the news right now.
posted by mecran01 at 7:28 PM on September 18, 2009


What would have happened if Rice had had a pistol? Wouldn't he have shot Pontolillo the minute he saw him with a sword? To me, Pontolillo just brought a (long) knife to a potential gunfight.

I think you (and people in general) underestimate the effectiveness of blades at short and medium ranges. You'd probably rather have something shorter than a katana at really close range but it's not a bad compromise if you're not sure if you're going to stumble on the other guy at 3 feet or 20 feet.
posted by Justinian at 7:37 PM on September 18, 2009


>So if you aren't comfortable with the handgun option, there are other weapons like mace, tasers, or martial arts training like aikido to give you the ability to control a hostile intruder in your home.

Interestingly, Aikido is based upon a style of kendo.

>Did Pontolillo consider using a hammer, baseball bat, or chainsaw before he decided on the katana?

Heh, I almost posted earlier that a good claw hammer is a better close-quarters weapon than a katana (there's a reason they carried two swords.)

>To me, Pontolillo just brought a (long) knife to a potential gunfight.

Do not underestimate a knife at a gunfight.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 7:41 PM on September 18, 2009


So there's noise outside. Probably the burglar. Pontolillo takes his sword and goes out. Possible outcomes:

1) The burglar is unarmed.

a) The burglar escapes anyway (relatively likely).
b) Pontolillo captures the burglar, gives him up to the police (ideal scenario).
c) Pontolillo corners the burglar, the burglar fights back:
- i) Pontolillo kills him (this is what apparently happened);
- ii) Pontolillo hurts him (but it seems that edged weapons are fairly lethal)
- iii) Despite his disadvantage, the burglar hurts or kills Pontolillo.

2) The burglar is armed; probably with a handgun.

a) same.
b) and c) If the burglar decides not to use his weapon, he can be captured without harming him. But if he decides to use his gun, it seems that Pontolillo has to retreat (and could still take a bullet) or advance (and will likely kill his opponent, but risks taking a bullet).

This all seems much more dangerous than calling the cops back and either holing up inside or retreating to somewhere else.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 8:11 PM on September 18, 2009


But, frankly, I'd rather agonize over taking a life and see a therapist for a while than, um, be dead.

I'm not following. At what point would this deliveryman kill you, and why?
posted by Astro Zombie at 8:18 PM on September 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


Two idiots on PCP almost ran my sister and I over in my mom's big 'ol Cadillac. They drove straight at us, did not stop or slow down, and we just dodged them. If I had been given the opportunity to kill them first, I would not feel too bad about the stupid fucks being dead.
posted by autodidact at 8:31 PM on September 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


My sister and "me", I guess.
posted by autodidact at 8:31 PM on September 18, 2009


Tasers for everyone!
posted by sneebler at 8:56 PM on September 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


Forget it Jake, it's the United States.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 9:03 PM on September 18, 2009 [3 favorites]


Except that's not what happened, Monday -- at least not according to the police statement in the WBAL story linked above. After the police searched the house and immediate area and gave the all-clear, Pontolillo and his roommate left the house, crossing a small enclosed yard to check the garage. Everything there looked in order, so they re-entered the yard on the way back to the house, where they surprised Rice, who lunged at Pontolillo, who slashed at Rice, causing the injuries that killed him.

I can easily put myself in their shoes: once the police give the all-clear, me and my roomie decide we might as well go out and check the garage to see if anything else was stolen in the earlier burglary, and on the way out the door one of us grabs something handy for self-defense "just in case, ha ha". In my case it wouldn't be a sword, because I don't have one, but if a baseball bat was handy? You bet. (A gun would have been different; I have no particular problem with guns, but in a circumstance like this one, if I honestly believed it was dangerous enough outside to take a loaded gun, I wouldn't leave the house in the first place. That kind of scenario is better left to the cops.)

From what's visible in the television report above, Pontolillo and his roommate would have had no clear path of escape when Rice came at them -- they and Rice had effectively cornered each other. Nobody will ever know why Rice chose to lunge at the college kid with the sword, but since he did so, his death is his own goddamned fault.
posted by Lazlo at 9:04 PM on September 18, 2009 [3 favorites]


Burglary carries a lucrative risk premium, and for most burglars it pays off handsomely.

I kinda have the opposite impression due to a recent Marginal Revolution post:

"Today, for burglary, the average return per day in jail is $22 [Average haul divided by average sentence adjusted by the odds of getting caught].... Many burglars are not risk-averse or they underestimate their chances of being caught."
posted by the christopher hundreds at 9:04 PM on September 18, 2009


That burgler was a fucking pussy. Everyone knows you're supposed to staunch the blood flow yourself, go get a cool robot hand, and then come back and settle the score in the next movie.
posted by w0mbat at 9:13 PM on September 18, 2009


Yeah, if Pontolillo and his friends were surprised, that changes things: it seems Rice died mostly because of his poor judgment, and that while it might have been unwise of Pontolillo to carry such a deadly weapon, his actions are perfectly understandable under the circumstances.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 9:29 PM on September 18, 2009


"Chased 'em for a block"

While I agree for the most part that people should defend themselves and the police are a poor substitute for a defense required in immediacy, I don't see how chasing a guy down the street for a block with big sheers constitutes a 'defense.'

"Smedleyman -- you erroneously conflate criminality with war."

On the contrary, you mistook my meaning, and I made a fairly ample distinction that I was applying only to the slice of the proposition that concerned the nature of human violence and killing.
I took no issue with Wilson's credentials on crime. Pretty sure I took pains to note that.
And having your home invaded is entirely a different thing in immediacy than it is in terms of preparation. So to is the physiological response.
Implicit in your argument is the immediacy of the event. And I'm not addressing that - or rather - I'm on board with the necessity of killing someone in your home and/or advancing on you. I'm addressing his preparation and initiation of the later event.

I don't much care how personally affronted one is - if a given individual is in your power, and you have the luxury of making a choice outside the immediacy of the situation,
it is a good idea to give yourself as many options as possible.
Choosing to go in loaded for bear when you don't have to is often more likely to result in a death - either yours or theirs. And I know something of war and criminality in violent situations.
Most times killing is a result of fear or the loss of control. A result of powerlessness to do anything else - hence the necessity of violence. I'm suspicious of folks who prefer to engage in it. Perhaps because for me it's been so viscerally satisfying.*

But situations in which I did not successfully defeat an enemy without killing them I typically felt were less successful. Even where no lives on our side were lost. Perhaps I'm a control freak, but I do like to have someone absolutely dead to rights and to have them know it and know they have no choice but to drop it.
Shooting them feels like I've failed to accomplish my goal. It is to me an inferior success.
But again, there is nothing - no personal feeling, no instinct, that can justify not having other options open to yourself. So again, this may have been necessary but nothing you can say is going to justify to me liking it.

He had the option to back off before closing on the robber's position. He had the option to call the police. While I agree with jamstigator that the best possible scenario for
one's own survival is preferable, I prefer not to kill unless necessary and with a good outcome.
I don't see that it was absolutely necessary here. But I don't contest that point.
Good?
"Souls made of fire, and children of the sun,
With whom revenge is virtue." - Edward Young.

I don't think either that home invasion, heneous as it is, is alone, terrorism. Certainly there can be horrible acts connected with it, but....
*A while back I was involved in something and we saw some folks who had been victims of a certain organization. One of the things I saw was cigar burns. Sure there were the typical marks and wounds from torture (cuffs, rope, deep tissue bruises, strong base burns, etc). But one of my fellows while treating the person pointed out to me that the location of the cigar burns indicated they were done casually. That is, without interrogation, intent, etc. So, person just sitting there, guy walking by - digs in the cigar, keeps walking.
And what infuriated me was the casual brutality of it. Certainly torture is abhorrent. But this was on top of all that. A sort of 'cherry on top.'
An indication that this sort of thing was "just so." Just like you'd otherwise casually pet a dog or smile at a child or surreptitiously escort an older lady across the street. This kind of casual, everyday, ingrained sadism. Just got to me. And I derived great pleasure and personal satisfaction from ending that behavior by the means available. But I would have liked to see more taken prisoner. My enemy was torture. People, hell, they're easy to kill if you can turn your hand to it.
Torture, other behaviors - you have to dig it out of living people so they can't perpetuate that poison. The key though is that it can infect you as well. People here have called me a number of things.
But rarely have I been so insulted as when I was accused of dehumanizing and hating people. This is not to say there are not servicemen who do hate. But it's counterproductive. If you can pull a trigger without hate and engage in force without rage but with surgical dispassion, you are not only far more dangerous, but far more resistant to becoming a hate monger yourself.

Some folks here are saying "You don't know what you would do!" Well, I know exactly how I would react in this kind of situation. Not because I'm John Rain or some supercommando,
but because I've prepared for it. When you have rehearsed and trained and prepared you are far more likely to be able to deal with the situation appropriately because in the immediacy of the moment making the right decision might be difficult.

Given the robber attacked the swordsman - yes, he made the correct decision to defend himself at the moment of truth.
Did the swordsman prepare himself for a more appropriate and perhaps a more survivable outcome for that moment? I can say dispassionately and without moral judgment that no, he did not.

It's weird to find myself on this side of this kind of argument. I'm usually pressed with explaining that violence is good and necessary and that it's rarely the answer, but when it is, it's the only answer.
Never occurred to me I'd have to delineate that violence is good and necessary only when it's good and necessary.
posted by Smedleyman at 9:57 PM on September 18, 2009 [3 favorites]


(missed preview) - yeah, if Pontolillo wasn't specifically looking for trouble and didn't have an exit that's a radically different situation than thinking there's some dude still out there and going hunting for him with a sword so my thinking on his preparation in that encounter doesn't apply.

As for why Rice lunged - probably, given his past history of hosing things up under stress, he's been self-trained to make stupid lizard brained decisions when his heart rate gets up high and he disassociates.
posted by Smedleyman at 10:07 PM on September 18, 2009


Church Hates Tucker> Interestingly, Aikido is based upon a style of kendo.

No it's not. Aikido is based on a style of aikijujutsu, which is entirely different from kendo.
posted by UrineSoakedRube at 10:16 PM on September 18, 2009


Nobody will ever know why Rice chose to lunge at the college kid with the sword, but since he did so, his death is his own goddamned fault.

That is, if you buy the "lunge" part. From the geometry of the courtyard in the WBAL video, there is enough space for both parties to back off, and the video does say Rice was cornered, not Mr Blade Cusinart.

I think an investigation would be a waste of time and effort though; the student at this point is a threat to criminals and not wider society. Plus if the xbox that was jacked was a Jasper he's got a good motive to seek some medieval revenge.
posted by Palamedes at 10:42 PM on September 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


Monday, stony Monday: "but his original plan (detain burglar who might have a gun with a sword) seems kind of stupid"

I'm going to bet he didn't think that particular cunning plan all the way through. Because, yeah, it's a really crappy plan.

I can see the utility of a sword (or, for that matter, a baseball bat, lead pipe, or any number of improvised weapons) if your plan is to use it in case you get trapped in your bedroom or something, as part of a last-ditch rush on an assailant, with the element of surprise. If someone comes around a corner and you're waiting there with a bat, assuming you don't freeze up, it really doesn't matter what they're armed with; it's going to be game over before they even realize what happened. However, this would require you to take your swing without much of an opportunity to verify that the 'intruder' really is an intruder (and not, say, a drunk guy who happened to get off the elevator on the wrong floor) by challenging them, which is required in some places before you can use deadly force.

Plus, they strike me as really bad 'standoff weapons.' They're not something that you can really plan on being able to use to threaten someone at a distance and control the situation with. Part of this is practical—they're contact weapons, obviously—but another element is psychological: the US is a gun culture. Other weapons just aren't taken as seriously. Everyone understands what guns are and basically how they work and what they do. With a gun, there's a significant chance that you may not even have to fire it to achieve the intended effect (removing the intruder from your house); a baseball bat or sword, particularly in the hands of a less-than-imposing person, seems like more of a use-it-or-lose it deal. If you don't use it while you have the element of surprise, it seems a lot more likely that the other guy will decide to try their luck and jump you for it than if you're holding a gun from the same distance.

I just don't see a lot of scenarios where everybody walks (or runs) away unharmed from a sword or baseball-bat confrontation. If you live in an area where you can't have firearms, or for whatever reason don't want to have a gun or learn how to use it safely, then I can see their utility—better something large and heavy or sharp in your hands than nothing at all—but I think I'd prefer to have the additional options given by a firearm, like being able to challenge an intruder from a distance before we go too far down the road that ends with somebody in the hospital. To each their own, of course; I'm not prosthelytizing for firearms.

The only people I come close to condemning in all this (besides the burglar) is the police: why didn't they check the whole property, including the garage, while they were there the first time? The whole confrontation could have been avoided if they'd just done that, and Pontolillo wouldn't have been put in the situation of deciding whether to investigate the literal "bump in the night" or call the police for a second time that day.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:30 PM on September 18, 2009


While there might be enough space for both parties to back off, what if Pontolillo decided, "Hey, this is the bastard who stole our stuff! , go call the police!" I mean why should he back off? He's got the guy who stole his stuff, has probably stolen and will go on the steal other people's stuff and who knows what else.

Scroll back up to my story. That guy got caught maybe 30 seconds into his little escapade and tried to lie his way out. My wife showed him the door. We called the police. Got our very own his and hers matching subpoenas. Today he's a guest of the state of Missouri. Again. Sigh.

But what if things were different? Imagine that instead of a healthy middle aged woman (who happened to have a 6'4" 300 lb ogre with a hickory knock off of a XXa.1 in the next room) he'd been caught red handed by a 70 year old lady or maybe a 14 year old girl? What would have happened then? Choosing the most non-confrontational route sounds great because in real life the odds of him doing something else that effects you and yours (like killing your Uncle Ben in a botched robbery four pages later, causing you to spend the rest of your days climbing around on buildings late at night looking for trouble) is infinitesimally small.

It may have a very profound effect on someone else.

posted by Kid Charlemagne at 12:50 AM on September 19, 2009


My guess is "I'm cornered - better try to knock this guy out of the way so I can get the hell out of here and not get stabbed/arrested" was the more likely thought passing through the mind of the burglar than "I'm going to fight the guy with the freakin' samurai sword."
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 12:53 AM on September 19, 2009


The only people I come close to condemning in all this (besides the burglar) is the police: why didn't they check the whole property, including the garage, while they were there the first time?

Looking at the area in google street view, it's a rather ramshackle-random accretion of buildings and outhouses that has been collected over the past 300 years of European settlement.

I mean why should he back off?

With the circumstances of the police already in the neighborhood, with friends to assist him in getting them back, IMHO the student had every right to attempt to detain the intruder by blocking his exit from the property, and every right to defend his space should the intruder invade it.

But if my understanding of the geometry is correct, he didn't /have/ to be this confrontational.

I am reminded of an episode of ~30 years ago, when I saw an youngish delinquent adult riding my bike that had been stolen a week or so before. We had company from church over, and my Dad and a family friend went out, chased, and cornered the guy behind the 7/11 three blocks up the street. My dad wanted to kill the guy, but the family friend started witnessing to the guy with my bike.

Now /that's/ a noble path to take.
posted by Palamedes at 1:22 AM on September 19, 2009


I just wonder if some of you who are sitting there perched on your lofty ideals judging others and how they would defend themselves has EVER experienced an intruder in your own home? As a victim of a home invasion, I can tell you, you do NOT know how you would respond, and you certainly may underestimate the paralyzing fear you experience and the absolute 'blur' that follows.
When your home is invaded, it leaves you completely devoid of peace, knowing there is no sanctuary where you can ever feel safe. My home was robbed one day when I was at work. I thought, no big deal, but still I was stripped of my sense of security. The second time I was in my house, early morning (4ish), when I heard someone in my home. To describe that feeling when you realize someone has broken into your home and you ARE THERE is impossible. You really think you'd call out "Hello?" and let the criminal know you're there? I did not have a gun or a weapon or a can of mace or anything in my bedroom, and I can tell you the fear and panic you feel is out of this world. I was afraid to call 911 because all I had was a cell phone (no land line) and I feared the light from the phone would be obvious and I'd have to talk loud anyway to get the info across.
If I had a gun, there would have been a dead criminal in my house. He came into my bedroom, and thank god did not look under my bed where I was hiding. He stole a bunch of electronics, no big deal, but biggest thing he took was my ever feeling safe. So when people are posting "You go, samurai boy" I totally understand it. Samurai boy did not kill someone strictly over loss of property. The criminal was a cancer on society, wreaking fear and havoc in however many homes he invaded. One less criminal to worry about. Did he deserve to die? I won't say yes, but if there is a higher power, then obviously the higher power felt he deserved to die.
Sorry, hit a nerve. You just cannot know until you experience this.
posted by WilliamMD at 2:14 AM on September 19, 2009 [2 favorites]


o when people are posting "You go, samurai boy" I totally understand it.

There may be a need to defend yourself in a similar situation, but you are well within your power to consider the death of another human a tragedy at this point.
posted by krinklyfig at 4:04 AM on September 19, 2009 [2 favorites]


I was afraid to call 911 because all I had was a cell phone (no land line) and I feared the light from the phone would be obvious and I'd have to talk loud anyway to get the info across.

I'm sorry that happened to you, WilliamMD. It sounds like a wretched experience. :(

Just an FYI for other people - if you call 911, you don't even have to say anything. The police will come and check it out. You might get them there faster if you can tell them what's happening. But they will check out 911 "silent calls".
posted by longdaysjourney at 5:02 AM on September 19, 2009


In California, I don't think they check out silent cell phone calls because they don't know quite where you are. Hell, it can take a good 10 minutes to even get an operator/dispatcher on the line. "Hello, you have reached the California Highway Patrol. Your call is important to us. . . "

Landline 911 calls seem to be handled a lot better.
posted by Hello Dad, I'm in Jail at 6:30 AM on September 19, 2009


I surprised two robbers breaking into my garage once (back when I had a garage*) and despite the fact that I was in a mood to hurt them... they both bolted immediately. So I'm with Marisa on this; it screams retribution, not self-defense.

(* no, you smartasses, this doesn't mean they were successful.)
posted by rokusan at 6:54 AM on September 19, 2009


My guess is "I'm cornered - better try to knock this guy out of the way so I can get the hell out of here and not get stabbed/arrested" was the more likely thought passing through the mind of the burglar than "I'm going to fight the guy with the freakin' samurai sword."

The guy is a lifelong criminal who's been preying on college students. He could have also thought Pontolillo was some punk kid who'd lose his nerve the second Rice charged him.

Needless to say, there are enough facts and conjecture that we can make Pontolillo into a cold blooded killer or into an unwilling slayer of men. We can cast Rice as the desperate criminal simply wanting to get away or the predator in a pen with a lamb. I don't think there's enough evidence to make any hard conclusions of either.
posted by Atreides at 7:08 AM on September 19, 2009 [2 favorites]


OK my general response to all of this:

How about just deciding "I will not kill", and going from there?

That's what I'm trying to accomplish with my life. I've also decided "I will not cheat on girlfriends". The pressure in the decision tree from such absolute decisions help to make it nice and healthy.

"I will not kill", so I'll taser the fuck out of anyone who burgles me. For example.

"I will not cheat on girlfriends", so I'll try to dump a girlfriend if I really want to be messing around. If I can't do it, the whole scenario needs further examination.

Do you see this?
posted by krilli at 8:07 AM on September 19, 2009


A guy attacks you and you think you have a duty to go near enough to him to help him stop the bleeding after you cut him? I am a physician, I'm generally kind-hearted, I dislike the death penalty, but in such an altercation I ain't going near that guy without backup, preferably police.

Unless he was unconscious. Then it might be, tiptoe over, nudge him, really check it out (having raised a hue and cry), and then probably find out he's got no pulse and wonder if I should start some fruitless CPR.
posted by adoarns at 8:26 AM on September 19, 2009


What would have happened if Rice had had a pistol? Wouldn't he have shot Pontolillo the minute he saw him with a sword?

Yep.

He's got the guy who stole his stuff

Did Rice actually have any of the stuff?
posted by kirkaracha at 8:37 AM on September 19, 2009


I just wonder if some of you who are sitting there perched on your lofty ideals judging others and how they would defend themselves has EVER experienced an intruder in your own home?

I have. A guy, drenched in blood, staggered into my house and marched upstairs to my bathroom. Called the cops on him. When I lived in Los Angeles, a man invaded my room. He stood there for a while, then went away. A skinhead once climbed through the window of a house I lived in and threatened my housemates. Called the cops on him.

At no point did I assume these circumstances were certain to end with one or the other of us dead. I find that to be an extremely dangerous presumption, although I don't condemn it. I do, however, condemn people who are absolutely certain that they would be in the right just shooting anyone who comes through the door and then finding out if they are dangerous afterward. It's an especially pernicious paranoid mindset. I wonder how many of them have had an actual intruder in their houses, since this seems to be the requirement to have a contrary opinion on the subject.
posted by Astro Zombie at 8:57 AM on September 19, 2009 [3 favorites]


Assuming that the original story is more or less accurate, I feel really sorry for the kid.

See, someone broke into my apartment while I was out and took a fair amount of my stuff about a week ago. (This about a week and a half after moving to Chicago; the cops grimaced and said "Yeah, welcome to Chicago" when I told them I was new.) They came in through the window. Thing is, the window is on the 7th floor, looking over a narrow ledge that runs past the fire escape. The thief came in the window.

For the last week, I've kept on picturing little scenarios: What if I opened the door to catch the thief in the act of taking the rest of my stuff? What if the thief came in the other room while I slept? I feel violated, and terrified that this asshole could hurt me (because I'm unarmed, but have no clue if this asshole had weapons when here the first time or would bring weapons if they come back.) I'm also terrified of what would happen if I surprised the thief and they turned to flee. If, in a panic, they went back out the window and managed to fall off the ledge and fall seven stories to their relatively-probable death, I would feel terrible too. It would be, in a way, my fault.

I don't blame the kid for freaking out and grabbing the nearest weapon-like thing when checking the rest of his property, and then doing something idiotic when he actually ran into an intruder. For a bunch of reasons, grabbing a sword was dumb, and the consequences of that decision were tragic, but not wanting to surprise a thief who might be armed with nothing but your bare fists to protect yourself... well, that I can understand. I'm scared every time I enter my apartment now, for just that reason. Despite that, I can't imagine the kid feels anything but terrible for having caused the death of another human being - no matter the circumstances. He's not the one who started that creepy fan site; he's the one who has to live with the real-life consequences.
posted by ubersturm at 9:01 AM on September 19, 2009


We can cast Rice as the desperate criminal simply wanting to get away or the predator in a pen with a lamb. I don't think there's enough evidence to make any hard conclusions of either.

Actually, Rice has quite a rap sheet, and it's all bungled burglaries; I haven't heard any reports of violence -- even more specifically, violence toward the people he has burgled. Unless that is there, we actually can make some assumptions about Rice, because his past behavior is pretty well documented. It seems very likely to me that this was yet another bungled robbery in a lifetime of the things, and that he wasn't there with murder or mayhem in mind, unless, again, there is something on his record I don't know about.

Pontolillo couldn't have known this, of course, and I am saying he should. But anybody who sees him as a hulking creature of violence now that we know the facts seem to be constructing something out of whole cloth.
posted by Astro Zombie at 9:02 AM on September 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


I am NOT saying he should, rather.
posted by Astro Zombie at 9:05 AM on September 19, 2009


I feel bad for the kid. I doubt most people intend on killing another human with a sword, even in a situation as high-pressure as being robbed. He's going to have to live with the fact that he took a human life for the rest of his, as well as the memories of the blood and screaming and smells.

I also feel bad for the criminal. 29 previous convictions, pretty obviously a messed-up dude with a desperate lifestyle. Tough break all around.
posted by lazaruslong at 9:39 AM on September 19, 2009


Except that's not what happened, Monday -- at least not according to the police statement in the WBAL story linked above. After the police searched the house and immediate area and gave the all-clear, Pontolillo and his roommate left the house, crossing a small enclosed yard to check the garage. Everything there looked in order, so they re-entered the yard on the way back to the house, where they surprised Rice, who lunged at Pontolillo, who slashed at Rice, causing the injuries that killed him.

I like the ever-changing mental image that accompanies this story every time I return to this thread. I'm going to come back tomorrow when the elephant, trapeze artist, and hot dog vendor make their appearances.
He was on a tight rope! He had nowhere to go!
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 9:56 AM on September 19, 2009 [3 favorites]


Did Pontolillo consider using a hammer, baseball bat, or chainsaw before he decided on the katana?

kirkaracha, what purpose does this entirely moot question serve? Moot, because Pontolillo will never answer it; because we cannot guess it with any accuracy; because it's not relevantl; because all of the weapons you describe are lethal.

I've been burglarized, robbed at gun point (he showed me the weapon, and never quite pointed it at me, so I was relatively sure I'd survive the encounter - but I'd still have dropped him had I the chance), and trapped and robbed in a SoHo basement. This isn't theoretical to me.

Pontolillo probably didn't exercise good judgment, and may have trapped the robber, but he didn't hurt or provoke an innocent person. I don't have a problem with him trapping the robber, either. 29 convictions for robbery? There are real injustices happening out there; this isn't one of them.
posted by IAmBroom at 10:13 AM on September 19, 2009


kirkaracha, what purpose does this entirely moot question serve? Moot, because Pontolillo will never answer it; because we cannot guess it with any accuracy; because it's not relevantl; because all of the weapons you describe are lethal.

It's a joke based on a scene from Pulp Fiction.
posted by Astro Zombie at 10:25 AM on September 19, 2009


I just wonder if some of you who are sitting there perched on your lofty ideals judging others and how they would defend themselves has EVER experienced an intruder in your own home?

Yes, I have. My partner at the time held the back door closed, with a broken shoulder and three broken ribs after a dirt bike accident the week before, holding a WWI bayonet in his hand while the intruder kicked the back door in (tweaking, with the additional strength that comes with it). I was in another room phoning the police. Once the intruder had got through the door he ripped off part of the door frame, still with nails attached, and started waving it at us. Instead of stabbing him (and therefore getting shitty home-invader blood on the lovely antique bayonet) we both ran out the front door. The police arrived in about a minute and a half and took him off to the psych ward.

I'm glad he didn't die. I'm glad he was able to get the help he needed. I'm particularly glad we were in a city in a country with very strict gun control and so the likelihood of him being armed were very, very slim to none. Should a similar situation arise I wouldn't do anything differently.

I find the glee that some of you are expressing at the death of a man extremely distasteful.
posted by goo at 10:43 AM on September 19, 2009 [5 favorites]


I've gone back and forth about this topic as it's made its rounds through the local news outlets (I live outside of Baltimore, and spend quite a few weekends there), and then as its done the circuit of link sites and forums. The obvious question becomes whether or not Pontolillo acted in the right, and whether the case is shut as is, or if Pontolillo should be tried. This is with the usual self defense conversation that alledges spineless bleeding-heartism, and internet tough-guyism.

I'll say that it's a complicated situation, and even though Pontolillo was in the right to defend himself when rushed, it's suspect as to why he didn't call the police and decided to Scooby-Doo the situation himself.

Aside from that I think this article displays a lot of the problems that exist in Baltimore.

You have the disgusting disparity of wealth between the 'professional' part of the city, and the 'criminal' portion. The dead guy in this case was a 29 count veteran of an absolutely failed drug war, that has done nothing to make any resident safer, healthier or more law abiding. The robber was probably breaking into the garage to steal consumer electronics that he could pawn for his drug habit.

There's the fact that Pontolillo decided to not call the police, but rather to investigate himself, which points to the deep distrust that both sides of the drug war feel for their police force. When something gets stolen, or you get mugged, you know that the police are mostly there to fill out paperwork. Regardless, who knows how long it would take the overworked officers to respond to your call, while they're throwing low level slingers into squad cars to make quota. Slingers that won't learn anything, and won't be deterred, and will simply have #1 or 2 of their eventual 29 counts against them.

And finally you have the terrible article in the Sun. A once proud tradition reduced to a thin excuse to hand out weekend shopping circulars. I've heard it repeated that the only reason this is getting coverage is the novelty of the samuri sword (and I agree), but isn't that telling? The only time we stop to consider crime and poverty is when it's managed as a side show?

This is a shitty situation for everyone involved, and I think it's representative of the city in which it happened.
posted by codacorolla at 10:45 AM on September 19, 2009 [3 favorites]


A waning in dissimilarity between mefi and local newspaper web site threads has been noted.
posted by bz at 10:57 AM on September 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


No it's not. Aikido is based on a style of aikijujutsu, which is entirely different from kendo.

I knew someone would call me on that. I was referring to the the fact that there is a sword component that went into aikido (yagyu style) and was trying to keep it simple.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 11:05 AM on September 19, 2009


I'll say that it's a complicated situation, and even though Pontolillo was in the right to defend himself when rushed, it's suspect as to why he didn't call the police and decided to Scooby-Doo the situation himself.

I thought he told his friend/roommate to call the police while he (expectantly?) kept the fellow in place, while awaiting their arrival.
posted by Atreides at 11:12 AM on September 19, 2009


UrineSoakedRube> No it's not. Aikido is based on a style of aikijujutsu, which is entirely different from kendo.

ChurchHatesTucker> I knew someone would call me on that. I was referring to the the fact that there is a sword component that went into aikido (yagyu style) and was trying to keep it simple.

One, there is a secondary technical influence from kendo and kenjutsu, but that's not the same as saying aikido is based on kendo. Two, yagyu sword isn't kendo, it's kenjutsu.
posted by UrineSoakedRube at 11:35 AM on September 19, 2009


If I had a gun, there would have been a dead criminal in my house.

This is an excellent way to end up shooting someone else by mistake.

I had a situation similar to yours happen 6 years ago. I was upstairs when someone or some people gained access into the house. I heard them, left my office to see if it was my housemate home early, and saw a punk-looking dude reverse his progress up the stairs and run the hell out the house. I did not follow him.

My housemate had quite an arsenal of weaponry (up to AR-15) in various gunsafes; he provided me with a nice Beretta, two clips, a quick-open gunsafe for it, and we went to the range for some handling and target practice.

The training was basic but I think it's pretty simple. You arm yourself to protect you and yours by hopefully adding control to the situation: "Stop or I will shoot!" or "I have a gun; leave the house now!". The gun itself is only pointed at someone when that person is moving toward you or yours (ie escalating the situation), and only when you intend to kill the person.

The gun should not be fired just to take out the intruder regardless of his actions. That's how innocent people get shot/killed.
posted by Palamedes at 1:51 PM on September 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


Smedleyman: Well, I know exactly how I would react in this kind of situation. Not because I'm John Rain or some supercommando, but because I've prepared for it. When you have rehearsed and trained and prepared you are far more likely to be able to deal with the situation appropriately because in the immediacy of the moment making the right decision might be difficult.

But see, that's kind of the point; most of us haven't and aren't expected to. I'm sure even Katana boy in his sword training never seriously considered the implications of swinging that thing in actual anger. You surprise one of us who hasn't had your training and nobody -- even the person you surprise -- is going to know what to expect. Some, perhaps most will fold up; some will try to run; some will explode in fury; some will turn all cold and calculating and respond with great precision without any training at all. Some will take notes and lay plans to take vengeance when it is both safe and completely unnecessary.

These are all natural reactions. I repeat though, the idea that we should respond to a threat of any type by calling an authority and waiting for them to show up and take care of it is extremely modern and unnatural. I think that very few people, caught by chance surprised and afraid, will gravitate toward that solution. It has to be taught, and the person must really trust the authority to both respond and to respond appropriately.

Incidentally, noting that you've taken it upon yourself to have that training and do a dangerous job on my behalf -- thanks. I have no interest in acquiring those skills myself partly because I'm certain I would suck at it no matter how much I trained. People like you make it possible for people like me to live a nice life with most of our physical expression executed through a computer keyboard, and that was not at all the case for most of the world's population for most of its history.
posted by localroger at 2:18 PM on September 19, 2009


The guy is a lifelong criminal who's been preying on college students. He could have also thought Pontolillo was some punk kid who'd lose his nerve the second Rice charged him.

Needless to say, there are enough facts and conjecture that we can make Pontolillo into a cold blooded killer or into an unwilling slayer of men. We can cast Rice as the desperate criminal simply wanting to get away or the predator in a pen with a lamb. I don't think there's enough evidence to make any hard conclusions of either.


Yeah, that's pretty much the case - we're all tossing around a lot of conjecture based on our assumptions and/or prior experience. You'll pardon me if I find it more believable that an unarmed man cornered by someone wielding a sumurai sword charged because he was trying to escape rather than trying to attack though. But sure, maybe that's the case - people do weirder stuff. Guess we won't know now, will we?

My personal take, having been in Rice's shoes a couple times, albeit without a weapon, is that there was some poor decision-making going on with everyone involved, and it was bound to end badly. Just a shame all around.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 4:43 PM on September 19, 2009 [2 favorites]


In my mind, the fact that Rice had pulled a gun on a police officer tells me that he's ready to make the do or die moves... Saw the sword, rushed the kid-- regardless of the strength that was used in the swing, their momentum was combined and likely more devastating than either of them expected.
posted by grillcover at 7:23 PM on September 19, 2009


"I repeat though, the idea that we should respond to a threat of any type by calling an authority and waiting for them to show up and take care of it is extremely modern and unnatural."

Ok. But I mean the same can be said of crapping in toilets or not eating bugs. Me I like eating bugs. I still can't get over pissing and crapping into potable water in the U.S. Drives me nuts. Keep trying to square that away, get a grey water system, but I've had nothing but hassles (long story).
And I think we have a lot of systems set up that greatly augment or negate a variety of our instinctual urges because we've found them more useful to general survival.
Law comes to mind first. Especially on roads. Who wants to walk out to visit one's country cousin and have to fight everyone along the way? Pain in the ass every time, even if you win.

"I just wonder if some of you who are sitting there perched on your lofty ideals judging others and how they would defend themselves has EVER experienced an intruder in your own home? As a victim of a home invasion, I can tell you, you do NOT know how you would respond, and you certainly may underestimate the paralyzing fear you experience and the absolute 'blur' that follows."

I kill by reflex, so anyone in my house would likely be dead. But - importantly - I'm trying to train that out of me. That's a conscious choice. The government put a lot of money into making my skill set and I poured a lot of add ons into it myself. But I don't -have- to kill. Fear is no excuse to kill someone. Often its a reason. But I don't see arguing not to succumb to decisions made in fear as any lofty minded ideal.

It's been my experience that initiating lethal force when not necessary typically results in a more dangerous situation.
I'll repeat that - most of the time the initiation of lethal force results in a more dangerous situation for all concerned. I've observed this. It's why ambush is such a popular form of assault. Unfortunately we don't always have the luxury of knowing exactly who our enemy is and attacking them by surprise.

With that in mind I've chosen - deliberately - to adopt a different philosophy and I train in a softer form of martial art to that end so I have a wider set of options. I can be non-lethal. Many martial arts and combatives have moves that are non-lethal, but often one builds to a certain place whether it be a knock out submission or kill. Long explanation there that I'm dodging.
I've trained my wife myself in the use of firearms. She doesn't operate in bullet time like me but she's pretty impressive and can reach, sometimes, and standing on her tippy toes, that SAS shooting ideal. That is so she has the confidence NOT to shoot unless necessary. She can give herself up to a full 1/2 second to deliberate and decide, maybe I can just hold this guy at gunpoint rather than do the Mozambique drill (she's small, she uses 9mils, pelvis might be nicer, but tough to justify without a harder hitting round) - given the scenario.

And there again lay this "what would you do?" thing.
Well, if you don't know what you would do - how can you retroactively justify killing someone a given circumstance?
As I said above - why allow what you can't do get in the way of what you can?

Some drunk kid enters your house by mistake - you kill him. Yay, big fucking hero because "hey, I didn't know."
You CHOOSE how to prepare. Do you know what you should do if some home invader is moving towards you with a close quarter weapon? Howabout he's got a gun on someone else? Howabout if he's got body armor on? Because in terms of shot placement there are different answers to those questions (generally - pelvis, head and anything unexposed respectively).
And the "I don't know how I would react" thing means it's just as likely your ignorance will kill you as it will kill someone else if you choose to engage.

I've never gotten the apparent shame people feel in retreat.
Seriously, I've backed off many times in my life when I didn't "have" to. I've had guys pour beer over my head. Spit on me. Why should I risk harming myself or killing them over that if they're not going to fight? I've had plenty of guys think less of me or think I'm not Captain bad ass for it. Screw 'em. I'm not there to live my life by their approval. Any dangerous situation you walk away from is a win. This guy walked away, sure. I think he probably would have been safer if - and this is given that he had the option which I'm not at all sure of - he had retreated.
Whatever the case, you should maximize your survivability, yeah, and there's no shame in retreating and living in domestic situations.

But the encounter with the bad guy in your home isn't dictated by the immediacy of the event.
If it is, you're an idiot. It should be dictated by you and by how you prepare.

Another reason I prefer knives is that I have kids. I will not mistake a young girl or boy in darkness as a large ex-con if I engage them with a knife. A pistol - different story. Plenty of people make mistakes and you see it in the news all the time. So too with other heavier weapons (bat, sword, etc)
A shotgun - well, you screw up with birdshot or something else low powered, maybe your kid will live. I'd say probably even. And with a strobe, hey, their blind, you turn on the light they still don't know your position and you can rack your shotgun or shoot them or ask them why the hell they didn't call and were out so damn late or whatever.

So how you prepare means you do know how you would respond because you've given yourself the options.
The fact you don't prepare, and leave it - what in the hands of fate? and then engage in this "what else could I do?" b.s. to justify killing someone is recklessly irresponsible. Not just morally, but tactically.

"Most close quarters engagements are won by who hits first and puts the enemy down. It is more important to knock a man down as soon as possible than it is to kill him."
- Know what that's from? The Ranger Handbook.

Think the Rangers are full of lofty, feel good, Birkenstock wearing, seed eating, Kumbiya singing ideals?
Or maybe you think that philosophy comes from years of participating in and suviving lethal force encounters?

This "criminal is a cancer" idea is fixated more on meting out vengeance and proving how bad ass and tough minded folks are because they're willing to kill someone than it is about actually surviving an engagement.

You think my heart is with the guy who breaks into someone's house? No. My heart goes out to the victim, but that doesn't mean I'm going to engage in hyperbolic b.s. about how it's alright to kill him to protect your stuff.

A gun, a sword, whatever - there's nothing you can put in your hand that is going to replace preparation and forethought or taking steps towards a goal like survival.

Let me say that again - you don't let what is in your hand dictate the situation. You determine the situation first then aim for the outcome you want.

Guy in your house? Ok. Why do you want to kill him? Why not just aim for surviving first, getting him out second and maybe getting him apprehended third?
Fear? Anger? Rage? Yeah, good luck with that. You're going to survive about three seconds letting that call the shots.

And here's another big big key to lethal force encounters - EVERYONE thinks they're going to come out on top. No one thinks their own weapon is going to be used on it.
If the bastard is willing to take your t.v. why would he have qualms about taking your weapon?
So again, a weapon is merely a tool to reach a goal. If your goal is killing then you're allowing the tool to determine your options for you. Humans didn't reach the top of the food chain by having better weapons than a tiger or elephant or shark. We did it by manipulating the environment in our favor.

Now we might disagree that nothing you have, nor the invasion of your property is worth killing for - but I'm pretty sure we can all agree that it's sure as hell not worth dying for.

And far as I know - that's the whole point. I'm a lethal s.o.b. but only because if someone is in my home, lives might be at stake. Moot point to some degree for me because no one's getting past my dog in certain parts. But if some guy gets into the house and makes off with my t.v. I'm not going to chase him down and try to stop him.
Because my first duty is to my wife and family to remain well and unharmed and capable of protecting them NOT to make sure they get to watch cartoons Sunday morning with a clear picture.

With everything I know, with all my advantages - I know enough and I've seen enough to know that I could have the drop on some schmuck and slip on flattened plastic Coke bottle and lose the advantage and get killed or just plain break my silly neck (I've seen this happen - those 2 liters are slippery if you flatten them out).

So it's not just ideals. There are solid practical reasons for not killing people if you can avoid it. I will say - that's where most morals seem to stem from though.
I mean, our natural instinct might be to smash someone's head. But over the years we've learned that we're not always the baddest mother's the valley and hey, maybe someone will smash our heads, and why trust our lives to that individual snap judgment?
So - laws. Police. All that.

Again, the solution to your survival might be pulling the trigger or hacking someone when you need to. I don't armchair quarterback someone's decisions under those circumstances and I don't think the law should either. But I think those rights come with responsibility as well.
In repose, it's best to prepare for a force encounter by having the environment favor you as much as possible beyond just having a weapon.

Work with the cops, form a neighborhood watch, all that. Million things you can do that are better in stopping crime than just having a weapon. And most of them are based on communication and covering each others back. Teamwork. Just like humans used to bring down mammoths.

Not that I'm anti-weapon by any means. They most certainly are tools that can save your life. But only if that's your goal in using them. They're not magic wands that fix problems or relieve you of your fear or make you any less violated.

Hell, I just wrote about fighting a behavior with force a bit ago. It doesn't work. You can use a weapon as some sort of voodoo fetish to make your fears go away, but there's always going to be a bad guy out there trying to get your stuff and you're never going to be able to kill enough of them to stop that.
posted by Smedleyman at 10:09 PM on September 19, 2009 [8 favorites]


...I have to say I find it kind of funny, in a good way, that this would likely be a completely different discussion if a firearm were involved (and I'd be bogged down in the same old rhetoric defending the use of force under certain circumstances against anti-gun folks)

I mean, I get people are angry if someone breaks into their house, etc.
But it strikes me that, the #1 phobia is public speaking. Death is 2 or 3. And it makes me wonder whether people feel they'd rather risk their own lives and perhaps take someone else's rather than talk to their neighbors and gather folks together and organize in order to protect themselves.

I don't say that to derogate. It seems intrinsically human (as perhaps localroger's are - I'm not purposefully engaged in disputing those).
I've found similar mindsets under conditions of genocide.

I've spoken with a lot of pro-gun folks. There's something to be said for resistance to any government with small arms (it can be done) but far more useful is communication and organization.
And I've found that many folks who talk big about taking on the government - with guns - don't talk much to anyone else.
And that attitude has been prevalent under oppression and genocide, where you have someone more than willing to pick up a weapon and attack a squad that has been kicking the guy's neighborhood in the winkies all morning. But head off to the local holy building, talk to those people about getting some folks together, no f'ing way. You might have to admit, what, your sister was raped or someone made you crap your pants (pretty common in combat by the way) or admit to some sort of other shame. Or be ridiculed or turned down by one's neighbors or peers for showing fear or weakness or whatever.

Nope, rather pick up a weapon and march off to be killed by themselves.

One of the upsides of being me and looking like John Wayne's father's boss, is the whole "well, if *he's* willing to admit he's pissed himself while being shot at...." thing.

But I don't know. I think without that... I mean hell, here I could just be some kid with a military historian dad living in my mom's basement reading John Rain novels.
I don't know what it is inside most folks... pride maybe. It can kill you. More surely than a heart attack. It is true that shame kills more people in survival situations - especially outdoors, plane crash, something like that. They just won't admit to themselves or perhaps others - ignorance or weakness or whatever. Won't turn back. Won't change their plan based on new data. Etc.

Whatever it is I've had it out of me for a while. That's not pride talking. Someone does me a favor and unfucks me before I'm going to do something stupid like eating Rosary Pea, I'm going to humble myself and admit I don't know what to eat in this neck of the woods and listen. Hell, I pretty much do that every time I bring my heap in to the mechanic.
posted by Smedleyman at 10:31 PM on September 19, 2009 [2 favorites]


This whole thread is a very great deal of data in support of Charles' Stross recent suggestion that empathy, mercy, and gentleness have been largely lost from the American psyche.

Even this bastion of liberalism is full of bloodthirst.
posted by Malor at 8:06 PM on September 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


(not you, Smedleyman, just in general, btw. :) )
posted by Malor at 8:07 PM on September 20, 2009


"When asking what Jesus would do, clearly it would be the Holy Son taking a page from the book of Pulp Fiction."

Or Dogma.

"I myself have several swords and bladed weapons (I keep them in a golf bag). I would not use them against an intruder though."

Note to self: Do not accept invitations for a "quick" round from Smedleyman.

"Depends on the local laws. I'm pretty sure up here in the frozen north, anything legally available for sale is a replica, intended for display purposes only. If you attempt to sharpen them you will just waste your time - they won't hold an edge."

I thought the real danger was from the fact that display "swords" are made from anything that'll hold the plating; usually something like old bedframes and tin cans; and therefor aren't tempered and annealed for sword use and in fact probably couldn't be even if you had a forge handy and the skill to use it. Result: so brittle they break or shatter with little provocation.
posted by Mitheral at 1:21 AM on September 21, 2009


The suggestion that Rice lunged at Pontolillo is not a certainty. It may have happened that way, or not. As the only other witness to the event is now dead, we shall never know for sure. I imagine that Rice's hand was cut as he attempted to shield himself from the attack, possibly the second attack after first being spiked in the chest.

Wealth disparity will always result in this type of problem. That is one aspect that the local Mefites have commented on.

It sounds like Rice was a fairly inept criminal failed by a system stacked against him. Some reformed criminals do great service to the community. Unfortunately, the current system is very unlikely to result in reformed criminals.

Pontolillo was poorly trained, probably angry and scared. Full of adrenaline as well. His judgment was not necessarily at its best. However, if you are wielding a katana, you better be know what you are doing.

If Pontolillo is not a sociopath he will live with the emotional scars of this event for the rest of his life. If he is a sociopath, he will not suffer from that, but he should be censured and held in a secure location until he learns how to behave in civilised society. Whether he can be tested for that is another question.
posted by asok at 4:33 AM on September 21, 2009


"If Pontolillo is not a sociopath he will live with the emotional scars of this event for the rest of his life."

Maybe. That's the thing. No one reckons with that end of the equation. For me, I think the updated details of the situation nullified my position as to the specifics here, but generally speaking, and given one has the option, it's better to not kill than it is to kill someone.

The crucial bit is that it's very easy to dehumanize someone in the immediacy of the moment. And anger is a big help for that. Probably why humans have the big adrenal glands, so we can meet the immediate tactical needs of the situation.
Since I've strongly argued that one should do whatever it takes to survive under those circumstances, I can hardly argue against killing someone if necessary.
But, when anger fades, when the "filthy scum" is gone and you have the corpse of a real human being that you're responsible for destroying that perhaps had parents or siblings or kids, there's no consolation of strong emotion anymore.

The only thing, I've found, that remains is the consolation that if you did need to kill, is that need. That it was necessary to save your or someone else's life and under the circumstances the person didn't give you an option.

To me, that's the same deal as the Somali pirates.
Hating them is going to fade because all hate fades (and if it doesn't - you'll eventually find that it's you who are the bad guy). So you can't kill them for that reason.
Only reason to kill them is because they took hostages and it's necessary to kill them because you can't do anything else.

The reality is, the pirates are products of an environment caused by disparity in wealth, environmental and economic exploitation in the 3rd world, plenty of other things. And in the same situation, if your family is starving, maybe you'd get into the same situation.
That empathy though doesn't mean they won't die as a result of the circumstances they have had at least some hand in. And indeed, they were offered a chance to surrender.
So too here - the criminal could have given up to the police. He didn't need to resist or perhaps attack the swordsman.
The difference is recognizing that something necessary doesn't have to be called 'good' or 'bad.'
And empathy, ironically, has always facilitated doing, correctly, what's necessary. Every strategist from Sun Tzu to Dunnigan recognizes understanding one's enemy is the key to winning.

Lot's of 'ifs' with Pontolillo. If he had to do it, ok. Maybe he can live with it. Maybe not. If he didn't - same deal.
But it's a lot easier living with knowing you did what was necessary than it is living thinking you killed someone when you didn't have to. In that case either you come up with ways to justify it which can lead down some shaky moral paths, or you ignore it or become angry all the time. Lots of psychological reactions.
I know police snipers who have shot folks who have had guns to the heads of hostages. I know one guy who superglued the barrel of a shotgun into the anus of a woman he held hostage and was threatening to pull the trigger so the sniper had to, in short order given the situation, shoot him through the base of the skull (cerebellum shots sever the second cervical vertebrae on the spinal column preventing voluntary movement).
Even then, when the snipers took the guy out, they didn't go out and have a heavy meal afterward or celebrate anything. And I can't think of a more righteous kill or a more odious perpetrator.
But the shame is that it had to get to that point. In the case of the shotgun guy - there are so many steps that could have occurred in that guy's life that could have prevented that situation.
Death comes to everyone. The shame is having to mete it out and risk playing God judging everyone (and so - who gets to judge you?).
Best way to avoid that is to not, y'know, play God and do only what you need to to save your life when necessary.
Beyond that, we're not talking about self-defense anymore.
posted by Smedleyman at 8:36 AM on September 21, 2009 [3 favorites]


>One, there is a secondary technical influence from kendo and kenjutsu, but that's not the same as saying aikido is based on kendo. Two, yagyu sword isn't kendo, it's kenjutsu.

Oh for frak's sake, the point was that the pacific aikido had a sword form as one of its founding influences. As I already said I was trying to KISS, so I won't point out your errors here. Thanks for the derail.

>It sounds like Rice was a fairly inept criminal failed by a system stacked against him. Some reformed criminals do great service to the community. Unfortunately, the current system is very unlikely to result in reformed criminals.

I have to admit that I read that first statement with a "WTF?!" But it's true. We in the US do a horrible job with actual rehabilitation. I suspect that has to do with the heterogenous population. People aren't as willing to give 'others' the benefit of the doubt.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 6:57 PM on September 21, 2009


When I was an undergrad at Hopkins not that long ago, twice within the space of a year students were killed in their own homes by intruders. I don't know if Pontillo knew about those murders or not, but they certainly change the way I see the situation. (Though maybe that's unreasonable of me.)
posted by needs more cowbell at 6:53 AM on September 22, 2009


Malor: "…empathy, mercy, and gentleness have been largely lost from the American psyche. "

When were they ever there, though?

Those postcards of lynchings weren't made to show the injustice of it all.
posted by Kadin2048 at 1:04 AM on September 23, 2009


I dunno, it seems like there was a lot of gentleness in America when I was young, and we were consumed in self-doubt after Vietnam. For awhile, we were a pretty great country, because we distrusted ourselves and questioned our own motives.

The absolute certainty of today is a huge step backwards; we're not just assholes, we're really sure that's the right way to be.

The conservatives didn't just win the cultural war, they annihilated the opposition. This thread is damn near all the proof you need.
posted by Malor at 5:48 PM on September 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


« Older Registered Weapon is a buddy cop webcomic about a ...  |  Time Fcuk is a new game by Edm... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments