A normal Thursday afternoon turned for the worst for Michele Kinloch when she stumbled upon a strange young woman in her bedroom.
She had just taken a shower and was getting ready to head out with some visiting friends from North Carolina. She slid open a pocket door that led to her dressing room, and to her surprise she was inches away from a strange woman, dressed in black.
“I was face to face with her,” Kinloch told The Darien Times. “I kept wanting her to be someone I knew, but then reality hit. This is a total stranger.”
She yelled at the intruder, “Oh my god, what are you doing here,” she said. “You’re stealing my jewelry!”
Kinloch, who is over 60, grabbed the woman’s forearm as she tried to run away. The woman pulled away and whacked Kinloch in the face with a box she had taken from Kinloch’s son’s room, she said.
With instinctive reaction, Kinloch grabbed her cordless house phone and called 911 as the intruder fled. She raced down the hall after her, phone in hand. An officer answered the 911 call.
“I saw her fleeing out of the entrance door and saw her getting into a car,” she said. “I then ran to the window in the adjacent room.”
The 911 officer asked her to describe the car.
“It’s gray,” she said. “And dirty. I think it’s a Honda.”
Kinloch stood at her window, heart pounding, adrenaline pumping. The car was gone.
The Cheshire triple murder in 2007 inspired Connecticut to define “home invasion” as a specific crime, separate from burglary, which is how most states classify the act. Those convicted of a home invasion in the Nutmeg State face a mandatory sentence of 10 years, with the possibility of a 25-year sentence and a $20,000 fine.
The law initially had a governor-supported three strikes provision, but that was never included in the final passage of the law in 2008.
However, police and prosecutorial discretion play a role in how charges are levied against those who are accused of invading homes. In 2011, Darien resident Zachary Hession was caught breaking into the home of someone he knew to steal prescription drugs and getting into a fight with the homeowner, according to police records. Hession was initially charged with home invasion and two counts of burglary, but the home invasion charge was later dropped. Hession was sentenced to seven years in prison, but this term was suspended in lieu of serving five years probation, records show.
Sgt. Jeremiah Marron of the Darien Police Department said the town has only recorded two home invasions since the law passed six years ago.
Shannan Catalano, a statistician with the Bureau of Justice Statistics, said that the federal government has yet to define “home invasion” as its own crime, yet 16 states have drafted legislation that separated it from burglary.
“Generally the most common form of entry is unlawful entry,” Catalano told The Darien Times. “People are just walking in through [unlocked] doors and windows.”
In most states that have home invasion laws, a conviction must prove the intruder not only unlawfully entered a home with intent to commit a crime, but also with intent commit a felony or misdemeanor against the occupant.
Statistics on home invasions are difficult to compile because of the various definitions between states and the lack of any definition at the federal level, Catalano said. Adrienne Senatore, a public relations officer for the FBI, did not respond to a request for comment on this matter.
Of all reported break-ins that happened two years ago, 28% involved instances where someone was home. Of those incidents, roughly 26% result in violence.
Most break-ins involve a perpetrator who knows the victim, according to the justice department. In situations where the invader knows the victim, violence is three times more likely to occur, data showed.
Rates of burglary for occupied and unoccupied homes have both declined over the years. However, the percentage of burglaries that resulted in violence has remained the same.
Most states, including Connecticut, allow a potential home invasion victim to use lethal force to protect him or herself from the invader. Known as a “castle doctrine” in common law, Connecticut victims can use lethal force in one of three instances, according to statute. One, to defend a person who is in danger of being killed or is being physically assaulted; two, to prevent an invader from burning down the home or from committing any other violent crime; and three, to prevent or end a forceful entry into the home.
Stand-your-ground laws apply the castle doctrine to events that occur outside one’s home. In Connecticut, a person has an obligation to retreat if he or she perceives a threat, but in states such a Florida, a person merely has to feel threatened and is free to use lethal force and is not obliged to retreat.
The trial of George Zimmerman made national headlines when he was acquitted for murdering Trayvon Martin, an unarmed teenager, under Florida’s stand-your-ground law. Stand-your-ground is back in the spotlight again, with the violent shooting death of Jordan Davis by Michael Dunn over an argument concerning loud music.
Most people who commit home invasions are looking for money to support a drug habit, according to a 2013 study by the University of North Carolina that interviewed hundreds of incarcerated men and women convicted of home burglaries.
Nearly 90% of them told researchers that their top reason for committing burglaries was get drugs or find money to support drug habits. A higher percentage of women committed burglaries for drugs, the study showed, while men were more concerned with getting money.
According to the findings, women tend to be more impulsive than men when committing a burglary. Additionally, most women preferred burglarizing homes in the afternoon, while men tend to focus on businesses in the late evenings, the study found.
Burglars were less likely to break into homes that had a security system or the appearance of one, according to the study, which was funded by the Alarm Industry Research and Educational Foundation, a trade association.
Alarms, however, did not deter the alleged home invaders of Priscilla Lane.
Within two minutes of calling 911, Darien Police arrived at Michele Kinloch’s door. Her face was sore, red and tender from the confrontation. Several pieces of her jewelry were missing.
Officers scanned her property for footprints and tire marks.
“They wanted a report,” Kinloch remembered. “I told them, ‘Can I put some clothes on?’ I was only in a bathrobe.”
They told her not to touch anything in her home, since it could taint the crime scene. She obliged.
About six minutes after police arrived on that frigid Thursday afternoon, a voice comes over the police radio.
Police stopped two people in a car matching her description. They told her they would need her to identify these people as possible suspects.
“I thought I would be going to the station,” she said. When officers headed away from the station, it became clear that wasn’t the case.
They stopped on Hollow Tree Ridge Road near Linden Avenue. Police cars ahead flashed lights. Officers floated about.
There, right in front of Kinloch, was the dirty gray car. And there, slouched near the car, was the young woman Kinloch confronted.
“As soon as I saw her, I burst into tears,” she said. “I lost it. It was enough for the detective. There was no doubt in my mind that this was her.”
Police arrested Alexis Jordan, 22, and Michael Apuzzo, 24, both of Hamden, charging them with numerous offenses including home invasion, a class A felony. Kinloch’s jewelry was recovered, but it remains in police custody during the trial.
Kinloch said she felt lucky that a woman broke into her house and not Apuzzo.
“If a guy would have come in I probably wouldn’t be here,” she said.
Apuzzo has a history of burglary in Cheshire, and had been convicted three times for drug possession in North Haven and Hamden. Jordan has no prior criminal history in Connecticut. Jordan and Apuzzo were each held on $250,000 bonds. Police are now looking into whether Jordan and Apuzzo were involved in other burglaries across the area.
Sgt. Marron said that Kinloch handled the incident the best way possible.
“Her actions were brave,” Marron told The Darien Times. “The success of apprehending the suspects was directly proportionate to her actions. The fact that she called 911 immediately completely increased our ability to make the arrest.”
In the aftermath, Kinloch applauded the police’s “amazing quick response” and arrest, and is also urging residents to lock their doors at all times.
“Police told me this is a very random robbery,” she said. “Maybe it happened for a good reason, so that others may prevent this from happening by locking their doors at all times whether out or inside their homes,” and maybe others will be better prepared should this situation happen to them.
Originally published in The Darien Times.