Crime & tragedy: Suspect faces manslaughter charge in death of homeowner Joe Rizzuto
Posted by Rex Hall Jr. | Kalamazoo Gazette September 10, 2008 11:12AM
KALAMAZOO -- Seconds after shooting a man he found rifling through his wife's car, Joe Rizzuto felt dizzy and sick.
Then he collapsed.
"His leg didn't even make it up the stairs," his wife, Jean Rizzuto, said. "He just fell."
Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety investigators have said the 64-year-old Kalamazoo resident suffered a massive heart attack early Sunday after struggling with and shooting a man he caught breaking into his car outside his home in the 1300 block of Homecrest Avenue in the Milwood neighborhood. He was pronounced dead later at a local hospital.
"It just infuriated him that this guy was rifling through my car," Jean Rizzuto said. "Get a job. That's what my husband told him, 'Get a job.'"
On Tuesday, the Kalamazoo County Prosecutor's Office authorized involuntary manslaughter and unarmed robbery charges against Jeffrey Robert Chapman, 38, of Kalamazoo, in connection with the incident. The felony charges are each punishable by up to 15 years in prison.
Chapman, who Prosecutor Jeff Fink said has five felony and seven misdemeanor convictions since 2003, remained hospitalized Tuesday in stable condition. The convictions ranged from breaking and entering to drug possession.
Jean Rizzuto said the incident began just after 4 a.m. when her husband, who was watching TV in their living room, woke her and said someone was in their backyard. After getting out of bed, Jean Rizzuto said she found her husband outside with his 9mm handgun, confronting a man who was inside her Chrysler.
Joe, she said, had left the car unlocked Saturday night after returning home from a card game with friends. Jean Rizzuto said her husband told her to call police and, moments later, the man grabbed Joe and pushed him against the door of the car.
When he started to run, Jean Rizzuto said her husband opened fire, striking the man in the left leg.
Within seconds of the shooting, Jean said her husband turned to her and told her he didn't feel well. As he walked toward their house, he collapsed. Jean Rizzuto said doctors pronounced him dead at about 11 a.m. Sunday.
Now, Jean Rizzuto and her family are preparing to say goodbye to her husband of 46 years. They met in 1961 at a dance near her hometown of Dartmouth, Mass., when they were 17.
Visitation for her husband is scheduled from 2 to 4 p.m. and 6 to 8 p.m. at Langeland Family Funeral Homes, 622 S. Burdick St. A funeral service is scheduled for 11 a.m. Friday at St. Joseph Catholic Church on Lake Street.
Jean said her husband was born in Grand Rapids and lived in Kalamazoo until he was 17 when he joined the U.S. Navy. He attended school at St. Joseph's church and Kalamazoo Central High School.
He was stationed with the Navy in Newport, R.I., when he and Jean met. They married a year later. They later settled in Dartmouth and, after spending six years in the Navy, Joe took work in Boston, was a member of a union and became a building supervisor. He had heart bypass surgery when he was 47 and moved back to Kalamazoo and Milwood six years ago after his retirement. The couple's time in Milwood had been uneventful until Sunday, Jean Rizzuto said.
Despite his health issues, Jean and her children said, Joe Rizzuto had been doing well and kept up with repairs and made improvements to the house after moving in.
"Everyone who met him loved him," Jean Rizzuto said. "There was a light that shown from inside him."
Jean described her husband as "a tough guy," but admitted that he felt more vulnerable because of his heart troubles and age and purchased a gun for protection. Fink confirmed Tuesday Rizzuto had a permit to carry a concealed weapon and that the gun used to shoot Chapman was registered to Rizzuto.
Jean said her husband was a good shot but had never fired a gun at anyone before.
"My husband could have killed him if he wanted to," Jean Rizzuto said. "He just wanted to hold him for the police. He wasn't going to let him go either."
Fink said the laws allow a citizen to use force against another person if a felony has been committed, the force is necessary to apprehend the person or prevent his escape or the person has used force against the citizen.
Despite the law, Fink said each case is "fact-specific" and officials recommend that, if at all possible, a citizen contact police before confronting a suspect of a crime.
As Jean has played the events back in her head in the three days since Joe died, she said she finds herself wishing she and her husband would have been anywhere Sunday but at home or that she would have been the one to confront the man.
She and her children, Gina and Chris, also said they believe that if not for the tussle their father had with the suspect, he'd still be alive.
"As far as I'm concerned, if that guy hadn't come here, my father would still be here," Chris Rizzuto said.
Said Gina Rizzuto: "I'm proud of my father. It takes a lot of guts to go out there and do what he did."
Contact Rex Hall Jr. at email@example.com