Hopkins Student With Samurai Sword Kills Theft Suspect

Baltimore Sun
Wednesday, September 16, 2009

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.

The Johns Hopkins University undergraduate didn’t run. He didn’t call the police. He grabbed his samurai sword.

With the 3- to 5-foot-long weapon in hand, (was it like a go-go gadget sword???) Pontolillo crept toward the noise, police said. When a man inside lunged at him, police said, the confrontation was fatal.

The student “was backed up against a corner, and either out of fear or out of panic, he just struck the sword with force,” said city police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi.

Pontolillo, who rents the off-campus home, nearly severed the man’s left hand, inflicting what police called a “spear laceration.”

Donald D. Rice of Baltimore, 49, a repeat offender who had been released from jail Saturday, died at the scene.

Guglielmi said the state’s attorney’s office will decide whether to charge Pontolillo, 20, of Wall, N.J.

In a statement Tuesday, Hopkins officials told students that there had been more than a half-dozen recent burglaries in the area and that the police presence would be bolstered.

Diego Ardila, a student who lived with Pontolillo in the home this summer, said, “From what little I know of him, he wasn’t some guy going out to kill.”

University of Maryland law professor David Gray said prosecutors must weigh whether Pontolillo thought he was in danger or became the aggressor. If he thought he might be severely harmed, then he was within his rights to protect himself, Gray said. “It doesn’t matter if he used a gun, a sword or a frying pan.”