Sunday's shooting of an intruder in a Baltimore County home in Perry Hall is a reminder that people in Baltimore and in the suburbs sometimes use deadly force to protect themselves. But police and prosecutors don't always agree on how to proceed.
I pulled a list of what I think are the Top 10 self-defense cases -- most involve shootings, but who can forget one of the most recent, a Johns Hopkins student and his samurai sword? In most cases, prosecutors ruled the incidents justified. But sometimes they prosecuted, only to get a conviction that carried a lenient sentence or an outright acquittal.
I purposely didn't include domestic cases, where one spouse shoots or attacks an abusive spouse. That got a bit complicated and didn't fit the current scenario. But we do have a variety of cases, from homeowners and business owners surprised by gunmen in robberies to elderly men shooting at children for vandalizing cars.
As you can see, the cases are never totally clear-cut. In some cases, the property owners were criticized for laying in wait for burglars, raising the specter of vigilante justice. I'd love he hear your thoughts, and any cases I might've missed.
Read the list and judge for yourselves:
September 2009 — Johns Hopkins chemistry student John Pontolillo kills an unarmed intruder with a samurai sword. Prosecutors rule the killing near the North Baltimore campus justified. Police had earlier visited Pontolillo's house and alerted the residents to a suspicious prowler. The student joined police and security on a quick search but found nothing. Later, before going to bed, Pontolillo went out again, this time armed, and confronted the prowler near a garage. He told police he swung when he was backed up against a door and feared for his lift.
March 2001 — Brothers Dominic "Tony" Geckle and Matthew Geckle shot three unarmed intruders at their concrete plant in Glyndon. Both had armed themselves with shotguns and spent the night in an unlighted warehouse after break-ins the two previous shifts. A grand jury declined to indict the men.
June 2001 — Two businessmen frustrated by repeated burglaries at their East Baltimore warehouse shot and killed a drug addict who broke inside and who they said appeared to be armed. Baltimore prosecutors charged Kenny Der and Darrell R. Kifer with first-degree murder because they laid in wait and shot the man several times with a shotgun and a handgun. Defense attorneys argued that the case "challenged the foundation of the right to defend yourself" and a judge in 2003 acquitted them of all charges.
1979 — Roman George Welzant shot and killed an 18-year-old boy and wounded another after they threw snowballs at his home in Eastwood. A Baltimore County jury acquitted the 68-year-old of murder. Known as a neat-freak, Welzant took photographs of kids who were drinking and the boy he killed had been drunk at the time.
October 1994 — Nathaniel Hurt, who ran a snowball stand behind his rowhouse on East North Avenue, kills a 13-year-old boy when he shot at youths vandalizing his car. The case drew sympathy for Hurt, a retired steel worker, and made him synonymous with vigilante justice in a case that became a referendum on out-of-control youths. He was convicted of involuntary manslaughter and sentenced to vie years in prison, but Gov. Parris N. Glendening commuted his sentence after 14 months.
July 1998 — In a case eerily similar to that of Nathaniel Hurt, and one that attracted equal sympathy, 78-year-old Albert Simms shot and killed a 15-year-old boy who had thrown a brick at his Cadillac on Llewelyn Avenue in East Baltimore. Simms was found incompetent to stand trial.
March 2010 — William Bozman wakes up in his Perry Hall bedroom to find a convicted felon standing over him with a handgun and demanding money. The 68-year-old towing company owner someone gets his own gun and fatally shoots the gunmen when he refused to put down the weapon, according to his account to police.
August 2009 — A clerk at a Broadway vintage clothing store in Fells Point, along with her boyfriend, whacked a man with a baseball bat after he returned to the store for the third time to rob it. Police later arrested the man and said he was responsible for 17 robberies of city businesses in 22 days. The boyfriend, Mike Voorhis, said he hit the man on the head three of four times before he ran away. Other merchants, also repeated targets, had armed themselves with bats, knives and in one case, an ax. Police arrested the man before he was beaten again.
September 1997 — A Northeast Baltimore liquor store owners shoots and kills a robber as they struggled for a gun during a holdup. It was the second time that Sung Kim, 33, owner of Bay City Liquors, shot and killed a man who tried to hold him up. Both shootings were ruled justified.
December 2009 — Two men were charged with attempted first-degree murder after they wrested away an Uzi-style machine gun from a man who had just shot their friend in the head during a party at a downtown hotel on Fayette Street. Prosecutors said the men went too far by continuing to beat the suspected shooter long after they had him in control and he no longer posed a threat. The case is still pending, but defense lawyers complained it demonstrates a double-standard in justice because the Hopkins student was not charged.