Burglary and Bushidō: Johns Hopkins Student Kills Intruder With Samurai Sword

280px-Shinken-swordA Johns Hopkins University student appears to take a literal view of the Castle Doctrine: he defended his domicile the old-fashioned way with an actual sword. The student encountered a man who had broken into the garage of his off-campus housing and proceeded to kill him with a Samurai sword.

While “Castle Doctrine” or “Make My Day” laws often play a role in these cases, this case presents a straight-forward claim of the privilege of self-defense if the student’s account is accurate. He claims that, upon entering the garage, the man lunged at him. Even if he did not see a weapon, it would generally be viewed as sufficient cause for the use of force calculated to cause serious bodily injury or even death.

In Castle Doctrine cases (here and here), homeowners may use lethal force in resisting intruders. An attached garage is usually included in the definition of a domicile or its “curtilage.” There is no specification on the weapon that can be used, so long as it is lawful. If you use an unlawful weapon like a sawed off shotgun, you can still be charged for the separate offense.

The deceased is reportedly Donald D. Rice, 49, who had 29 prior convictions for crimes such as breaking and entering. He had only been released the prior Saturday after his latest arrest.

This appears to be trend among students protecting their domiciles, here.

For the full story, click here and here.

18 thoughts on “Burglary and Bushidō: Johns Hopkins Student Kills Intruder With Samurai Sword”

  1. Anon:

    Yes, a well-made katana can cut straight through bone. In fact, traditionally swords were rated based on how many bodies they could cut through (usually tested on convicts sentenced to death).

    However, probably 99% or more of “samurai swords” in this country are cheaply made Chinese imitations that are only for display and not actual use.

  2. erykah:

    I found a little but nothing like you seem to be implying. And what I found seems to have occured prior to 1900 with the exception of some children in NYC given an experimental AIDS drug and the big one-The Tuskeege Syphilis Study.

    I know about the Tuskeege Institute syphillis testing, which was a terrible abuse of civil rights. But I really did not find anything of significance in the modern era post 1920 lets say, with the exception of the AIDS drugs and the Tuskeege study. Granted one or the other is enough/too much of that type of thing.

    You dont think white people get experimented on as well? What about the case in Virginia where a couple of white women were sterilized without consent because Oliver Wendel Holmes, Jr. thought “3 generations of imbeciles was enough” in Buck v. Bell or the concentration camps in NAZI Germany.

    I would be interested to see your information. Obviously something like that is not good at all.

  3. Byron:
    I know you mean well, but it is apparent that you know nothing about the history of Baltimore, the history of hospitals, teaching hospitals or Johns Hopkins and its relationship to African Americans and other marginalized groups. You also know nothing about the history of modern medicine which preyed on these populations as “clinical material” in the name of medical advancement. The emergence of the field of bioethics and other safe guards to protect human subjects from abuse did not happen in a vacuum. May I suggest that before you dismiss my assertions regarding Hopkins that you do some research in this area. In fact, there was a running joke at Hopkins not long ago that a black body any black body walking through the hospital was to be assumed an experimental subject. Hate to burst your bubble, but that is the reality.

  4. erykah:

    “The medical school and hospital is located in a “rough” neighborhood, but many teaching hospitals prefer such locations as the residence in the area are often used as guinea pigs.”

    that is facile horse poop. The reason Hopkins is located in a rough neighborhood is because it was founded in 1889. There might not have even been a neighborhood there at that time. And over time things have deteriorated as they did in the 60’s with many major cities.

    Johns Hopkins is one of the finest hospitals in the world and I doubt seriously if they use poor people for “guinea pigs”. Hopkins is a hospital of last resort for many sick people. What do you think they are? So I would venture a guess they have plenty of paying gpig’s and don’t need to scour the streets of Baltimore for candidates for Dr. Frankenstein’s’ laboratory.


  5. I want to join the National Sword Association. And if there isn’t one, I want someone to make one so I can join.

  6. BIL –

    I saw a very interesting documentary (Discovery Channel perhaps?) about the physics of weaponry. The katana was highly rated and impressive in it’s effectiveness. There were trained physics experts on-hand to record and interpret the measurements of a variety of weapons used, from kicks and punches, swinging weapons like nun-chucks (sp?), to the katana sword and many more.

    The most surprising results came from the human body working as a blunt weapon–two brothers who head-butted concrete blocks, punched through them and ran into them. I think you would find that show very interesting if you can find it …

  7. Roland:
    Don’t get me wrong. I am not sympathizing with the intruder, but if you are insinuating that the victim’s self defense is justified simply because Hopkins is located in an “unsavory” area, then you are wrong on two fronts. First,you cannot assume that the use of force is justified based only on location. It is this very attitude which lends credence to police brutality in low income areas. Second, the student is an undergraduate which means he attends school at the Charles St. campus which is located in quite an upscale neighborhood. The medical school and hospital is located in a “rough” neighborhood, but many teaching hospitals prefer such locations as the residence in the area are often used as guinea pigs. Your use of the term “unsavory” is offensive as it implies that crime and violent crime only happen in low income areas. But some of the most heinous crimes happen in upscale neighborhoods and are committed by so-called upstanding citizens. So let’s dispense with the classism shall we?

  8. Anon,

    A properly forged katana can easily split an man in half. In Feudal Japan, it was common practice to test new blades by cutting up convicts. Many vintage blade tangs have an inscription with the maker’s name, the date the blade was forged and the date it was “tested” and sometimes the name of whom it was tested upon. Modern sword smiths test them on bamboo if at all since most are made for ceremonial use now.

    A katana can cut bone easily as the curved edge (one of the most important design features) delivers a huge force on the down stroke and indeed that is it’s prime stroke. Somewhere in the neighborhood of 1200 psi if I recall correctly. It’s a back blade, meaning it has one edge and a dull spine (most cutlasses are back blades too). The curvature of the blade is achieved not by hammering as is the common misconception, but through a metallurgical phenomena when the 800 C blades are rapidly cooled. The way the blades are folded make the blade cool at differential rates causing a contraction in addition to locking the carbon in the desired matrix where martensite forms at the edge side of the blade. This causes the characteristic “wave” you see in the blades of ancient Japanese weapons.

    The blades are fragile and must be fought with in a very specific fashion as lateral forces can make the blades snap. Despite what they show in samurai movies, evasion is the norm, you block with a blade like that only as a last resort and you always block with the back of the blade. Even on successful strikes, chipping is an issue. It’s primarily a slashing weapon. As a thrusting weapon, it is fairly effective with it’s chisel tip (designed to penetrate armor, a feature still used in knives like the S&W Combat Switchblade issued some members of Special Forces). A katana is the “high maintenance sword” but it is also the “Ferrari of swords”. It’s less sword in the European or Chinese tradition than it is giant straight razor.

    The best kenjutsu masters can use two blades at once. The standard is the legendary Minyamoto Mushashi (1584-1645). A ronin, or masterless samurai, he wandered the country dueling as he perfected the two-sword technique called niten’ichi (two heavens as one). This is far, far more difficult to master than the European tradition and technique of using a rapier or cutlass in conjunction with a much smaller blade like a dirk or a dagger like you see in pirate movies. When properly done (and don’t look at me, this is way WAY above my skill level), niten’ichi looks like MAGIC. Honest to god magic. You become a wall of flashing metal. A walking blender. Mushashi supposedly fought more than 60 duels and lived not only to tell the tale, but to write a book on the strategy of blade combat that I suggest EVERY young lawyer read: “Go Rin No Sho” (The Book of Five Rings). A book on basic combat strategy every bit as valuable as Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War” and a personal favorite. If you ever wonder where my philosophy on fear comes from, read The Book of Five Rings.

    The katana is a weapon that deserves every bit the respect you’d show a gun. There are some ways for unarmed opponents to fight against bladed weapons. All of them take lots of skill and more than a little luck because they almost all require you to get within the attackers “circle” (i.e. inside their stance to where they cannot swing at you). Then the immediate goal becomes either disarming or killing the attacker outright, preferably both. You don’t give someone with a katana a second chance if you can help it. Much like facing an opponent with a gun, running away is always the best option.

    Some learn that lesson harder than others.

    This aside, I hope the student does get the counseling he’ll need. Unlike Mushashi, I’m willing to bet the lad isn’t used to killing people let alone with a sword. Next to a knife? There is no more personal way to kill someone absent just pummeling them to death with your bare hands. You see them die in full bitter gruesome detail. Not the often abstract, click, BANG, body hits the floor you get with a gun.

    I think he was well within the Castle Doctrine.

  9. Anon — of course a REAL samurai sword can cut through bone. (The only question is whether this WAS a quality blade or a cheap modern imitation.) Even a cheap modern imitation, even if only partially sharpened, would take off fingers and might account for the incomplete removal of the hand.

    The burglar’s natural impulse would be to throw up a hand to fend off the “thing” coming at him. A single cut/swing, with a moderate amount of force behind it, would be completely sufficient to do the reported damage. The wounds also indicate that the burglar WAS at least facing the student, since they’re in front.

    A good kitchen knife might have done as much damage, people are freaking because a “samurai sword” is one of the sexiest types of “sharp.” Perp probably bled out and/or shocked out.

    I hope the student gets as much help as he needs dealing with this; no matter how many samurai movies you’ve watched, real life, and personal, would be different.

  10. mesppo,

    Most of the people in China Grove have Bachelor Degrees or better. It is a sleepy town still land is controlled by one “Family” so I have often wondered what the song really meant. They are not anything like the general makeup of San Antone. I had one thought years ago was about drugs, sure they probably smoke weed but who doesn’t in that neck of the woods such as China Blow. Or maybe they just wanted to let the town folks know that they had made it. Not sure, had heard a rumor that they got there start from the Hells’ Angels. Not sure if true.

  11. “The people of the town are strange
    And they’re proud of where they came
    Well you’re
    talking ’bout China Grove (Talking ’bout your China Grove)
    ho ho! (Wo oh!) (China Grove)”

    “But every day there’s a new thing comin
    The ways of an oriental view
    The sheriff and his buddies
    With their samurai swords
    You can even hear the music at night

    And though it’s a part of the Lone Star State
    People don’t seem to care
    They just keep on looking to the east”

  12. I just can’t see an issue with this. I’ve been to Johns Hopkins several times and if he lived anyhwhere near the campus he lived in an unsavory neighborhood. Actual fear for one’s life would not be too far fetch in a case like this. He’s lucky he wan’t harmed by the intruder.

  13. What is so very disturbing is the “nearly” severed hand. Can a samurai sword really so easily cut bone? Since he did not really make it all the way through, probably not. Also, there are disturbing similarities to old school punishments to theft. Steal and you lose a hand…

    It raises automatic doubt to whether someone was having fun executing…

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