By all accounts a would-be burglar named Samuel Joseph Cutrufelli picked the wrong home when he kicked in the front door of a Greenbrae man Wednesday.
Police say the resident, a 90-year-old World War II veteran and former sheriff's air patrol deputy, put up a fight.
Cutrufelli came armed. Police said he briefly managed to "detain" Jay Leone before the homeowner accessed a gun of his own. That, police said, was when things began to go very badly for Samuel Joseph Cutrufelli.
The alleged burglar, who the Marin Independent Journal said was sentenced to six years in prison in 2001 after pleading guilty to cutting a Novato man who complained about nearly being hit in a crosswalk, later called 911 from his car in San Rafael. He had been hit three times with rounds from Leone's .38 caliber pistol. Cutrufelli told responding officers he had shot himself and needed medical attention, but by then police were aware of the shooting in Greenbrae and he was taken into custody.
Leone suffered a bullet wound to the cheek.
Both men are recuperating at hospitals in Marin County, leaving their neighbors and others to ponder the ramifications of their respective actions -- though most agree Leone was well within his rights to open fire on the intruder and that Cutrufelli, well, got what he deserved.
"Normal people don't do what I did to him," the Independent Journal quoted Cutrufelli as saying about his victim during the sentencing hearing for his stabbing case in 2001.
But at what point does ones defense of their home and person morph from self defense into aggressive action deemed "excessive" by the court system in California? The so-called "Castle Law," which does afford protection for homeowners who use deadly force when their lives are in danger, has been successfully challenged -- particularly in cases where residents used deadly force against strangers who mistakenly entered their homes.
Although a challenge would seem unlikely in the Greenbrae case, in California a person would generally be justified in using force sufficient to cause death or great bodily injury only when their attacker is already using such force and the defending person "reasonably" believes that he or she is in immanent danger of being killed or severely injured. But what legally constitutes the "reasonable" belief could ultimately be decided by a jury and not by the person who acted in self defense.
We are reminded of the case of San Francisco cab driver Holden Charles "Chuck" Hollom, a driver for Luxor cab who, one night in May 1989, witnessed a mugger named Ocie McClure assault a pregnant Japanese tourist on Market Street in San Francisco -- kicking her in the stomach before making off with her purse.
"He was a specter running down the street," Hollom said at the time. "Visualize a man the size, shape and build of Mike Tyson, his eyeballs bulging, sweat popping out of his head. You had to see him."
Hollom gave chase in his cab, swerved around another cabbie and pinned McClure to the wall of a building, holding him there for police for four minutes -- and breaking his leg in two places in the process.
A San Francisco attorney sued on McClure's behalf and won, convincing a jury that Hollom needed to compensate the purse-snatcher $24,595 in medical expenses to pay for his damaged legs.
The resulting hue and cry was heard far beyond the San Francisco city limits, with rallies held to defray the judgment on Hollom's behalf and death threats for the attorney, who insisted he did the right thing.
"His leg was broken in two places, and on one of the breaks, a bone was displaced. An artery was severed. A muscle was torn and just hanging there. It was gruesome. It looked like chopped meat," attorney Ian Zimmerman said at the time.
McClure, who was serving a 10-year prison sentence, never got the money because he was treated at public expense. Luxor paid Hollom's legal fees and "Chuck Hollom" cans popped up in saloons all over the city -- with residents donating thousands in his name.
But residents were unhappy that a man who took action to stop a criminal act could be successfully sued -- by the perpetrator.
"My God, there's few of us enough who have the guts to do something like that," said Desmond Reeves, a San Franciscan retiree, at the time. "And this guy gets soaked for his pain because in the excitement of the moment he used a little excess force. As far as I'm concerned, the mugger should be dead."
What do you think, Lamorinda? Our Wild West roots are showing and Californians appreciate tales involving obvious "men of action" like Leone and Hollom -- but are they to be lauded or viewed with a jaundiced eye? You tell us...