Ben Nuckols, San Francisco Chronicle, September 15, 2009
A Johns Hopkins University student armed with a samurai sword killed a suspected burglar in a garage behind his off-campus home early Tuesday, hours after someone broke in and stole electronics.
Some shocked neighbors said they heard bloodcurdling screams in an area just blocks from the university. Police held the student, a junior chemistry major who turns 21 on Sunday, for several hours, but he was not charged with any crimes Tuesday, police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said.
Around 1:20 a.m., the student heard noises behind the home and noticed a door to the garage was open, Guglielmi said. He grabbed the sword and confronted the intruder–identified by police as Donald D. Rice, 49, a habitual offender who had just been released from jail.
Rice was crouching beneath a counter, police said. The student asked him what he was doing and threatened to call police.
“When he said that, the suspect lunged at him, kind of forced the kid against the wall, and he struck him with the sword,” Guglielmi said.
Rice’s left hand was nearly severed–Guglielmi described it as “hanging on by a thread”–and he suffered a severe cut to the upper body. He died at the scene.
On Monday, two laptops and a Sony PlayStation were stolen from the student’s home, which he shares with three other students, but police were not sure whether Rice was responsible, Guglielmi said.
Rice’s criminal history includes more than two dozen arrests for burglary, breaking and entering and auto theft. According to court records, he was charged in 2007 after he pulled a gun on a police officer, though prosecutors placed those charges on hold because the officer was on military leave.
Rice was convicted in 2008 of unauthorized removal of property and sentenced to 18 months. He was released Saturday from the Baltimore County Detention Center.
Several nearby residents said the community has experienced a rash of petty crimes in recent months, including home, garage and vehicle break-ins. Many homes have bars on windows and stickers advertising alarm systems.
Kenny Eaton, 20, a junior political science major at Hopkins who lives nearby, said there was some tension between students and lower-income residents of nearby communities. The private Johns Hopkins is known for its health and science research and has about 4,600 undergraduates on its main campus.
“You take kids who are paying $50,000 a year (in tuition) and then put them out in a very dangerous city environment, it’s almost like a clash of civilizations,” he said.
Guglielmi said police would consult with prosecutors about whether to file charges against the student. As in most states, self-defense in Maryland is defined by common law rather than by statute. People who confront intruders inside their homes have a greater degree of latitude to use force, and prosecutors consider whether to file charges in such incidents on a case-by-case basis.