A Johns Hopkins University student armed with a samurai sword killed a man who broke into the garage of his off-campus residence early Tuesday, a Baltimore police spokesman said.
According to preliminary reports, a resident of the 300 block of E. University Parkway called police about a suspicious person, department spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said. An off-duty officer responded about 1:20 a.m. to the area with university security, according to Guglielmi. They heard shouts and screams from a neighboring house and found the suspected burglar suffering from a nearly severed hand and laceration to his upper body, he said.
The suspect was pronounced dead at the scene. Based on the initial investigation, the student killed the man with only one strike of the sword, according to Guglielmi. The medical examiner will make the final determination, he said.
The student told police that he heard a commotion in the house and went downstairs armed with the sword, Guglielmi said. He saw the side door to the garage had been pried open and found a man inside, who lunged at the student. There was no indication that the suspected burglar was armed, however, according to Guglielmi.
Burglars had already stolen two laptops and a Sony PlayStation from the student's home Monday, Guglielmi said.
Dennis O'Shea, a spokesman for Johns Hopkins, said all four residents of the house are undergraduate students at the university. Police had released three of the roommates by Tuesday afternoon. The student who wielded the sword remained in custody while investigators worked to corroborate his story with evidence and witness statements. Police have not released the name of the residents, but department sources identified the detained student as John Pontolillo, 20, of Wall, N.J.
The city state's attorney's office will determine whether to press charges, Guglielmi said.
Police have also not formally released the name of the suspected burglar, but a department source identified the man as Donald D. Rice, 49, of the 600 block of E. 27th St. in Baltimore. Guglielmi said the suspect had 29 prior convictions for crimes such as breaking and entering, and had been released Saturday from the Baltimore County Detention Center after he was arrested by county police in August 2008 for stealing a car in Baltimore. Rice was found guilty in December on one count of unauthorized removal of property, and he was sentenced to 18 months in prison.
Michael Hughes of the 3400 block of University Place, about a block away from the scene, said he was working at his home when he heard screams shortly after 1 a.m.
"I could hear the fear in the voice, and I could tell someone was scared," said Hughes, 43, who works for Johns Hopkins' Bloomberg School of Public Health.
Hughes said he called police and could hear sirens as he was on the phone. He walked over to the crime scene shortly after.
"The body was near the garage. And I watched them carry the sword out. The whole thing was surreal and totally bizarre," Hughes said.
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. A door to a wooden fence surrounding the back yard was broken, allowing the scene to be viewed from the sidewalk.
The three-story house has five bedrooms and two bathrooms, according to Diego Ardila, a junior at Hopkins. Ardila said he lived in the house during the summer and was a roommate of two of the people that currently live there.
Ardila, 19, said one of the roommates owned a samurai sword and generally kept it in his room. Ardila described the student as somewhat outgoing, although they did not speak frequently.
"He kept the sword on top of his cabinet," Ardila said.
Five people lived at the house during the summer, according to Ardila, who now lives a few blocks away.
"You don't expect to hear that someone you know killed a guy with a samurai sword. From what little I know of him, he wasn't some guy going out to kill," Ardila said.
Guglielmi said it is legal to possess a sword in Baltimore, and "individuals have a right to defend their person and their property." But the police spokesman said he was not in a position to comment on whether it was appropriate to use a sword, baseball bat or other means of defense.
Rice was arrested Sept. 25, 2006, for operating a stolen vehicle. Inside the vehicle, police found a camera bag with video tapes that had been taken from a home in the 200 block of E. University Parkway, which was ransacked a month before when someone broke in through a back window, according to court records. The intruder stole luggage, a laptop computer, a video camera, two digital cameras, and the black camera bag.
Rice was charged in both incidents, and received five months in jail –– or time served –– for the theft, court records show.
On Dec. 14, 2007, police on patrol in the 400 block of E. 27th St. saw Rice, who the officers wrote looked suspicious and was fumbling with something in his jacket pocket, court records show. When an officer approached, Rice pulled a loaded Rohm .22-caliber handgun, which the officer was able to grab.
Rice was charged with several weapons charges, but prosecutors dropped the case in Circuit Court in July 2008 after one of the officers –– who was deployed overseas with the military –– could not attend a court hearing, according to the state's attorney's office