Regrets? No, man says of shooting

Spared indictment, business co-owner describes break-in

April 27, 2001|By Tim Craig | Tim Craig,SUN STAFF

The day after a Baltimore County grand jury chose not to indict him and his brother, Matthew Geckle said he has no regrets about the shootings of three unarmed intruders at his business in Glyndon.

He said he would do nothing differently and was sorry only that his shotgun accidentally discharged when he struck one of the intruders, sending a round into the warehouse ceiling at Back River Supply Inc.

"That is one thing that bothers me greatly - that my gun accidentally discharged," Matthew Geckle said yesterday in an interview at his lawyer's office in Baltimore.

The March 19 shootings killed one man and wounded two others, one of whom escaped from the warehouse. The grand jury decided Wednesday not to indict Geckle, 36, and his brother, Dominic "Tony" Geckle, 31, on murder or manslaughter charges.

Yesterday, Matthew Geckle puffed on a Marlboro Light cigarette while answering questions for 90 minutes. Dressed casually and wearing camouflage suspenders, he spoke in a calm voice, insisting that the brothers had acted in self-defense and had not planned to kill anyone.

If killing people was their goal, Geckle said, they would have used a different method.

"It is very easy to puddle water around inside that building. I would have laid 220 [volt], three-phase electrical cord in the water [and] when they came through the door and we were sure everybody was in, we would have thrown the switch and it would have rained lead, and then we would have fired up the mixer, and they would have just been a memory."

His lawyer, Richard Berger, added quickly: "Then we would really be in trouble."

Geckle, an avid hunter, does not object to being called a vigilante. He said the word refers to the public keeping order when police are unable to enforce the law.

Last month's incident was the "fifth or sixth" time he has had to apprehend an intruder or vandal without police, Geckle said. Before the brothers moved their concrete business from Essex to Owings Mills in 1996, Geckle said, he often went to the office at night when the burglar alarm sounded.

"I always beat the cops there," he said. "I always took my shotgun there. They never had a problem seeing me there with a shotgun."

On March 19, the Geckles were guarding their business after two consecutive nights of break-ins. The brothers went to sleep at 10:30 p.m. after discussing hunter safety tips they had learned as children: Each had to know where the other was so they did not shoot each other, Matthew Geckle said.

Armed with a shotgun, Tony Geckle slept on an air mattress in the woodshop on the main floor of the warehouse. Matthew Geckle, also armed, was sleeping in the second-floor office.

About 1:20 a.m., Tony Geckle was awakened by the sound of someone inside the building. Cornered near the woodshop, he shot the three intruders after they advanced toward him carrying what he thought were weapons.

"When I woke up, I heard my brother yell, `Freeze. Don't move,'" Matthew Geckle recalled. "There was a brief period of time ... then I heard the shots fired."

"The next thing I [remember] I was standing on top of [two suspected] burglars," Geckle said. "I was yelling at them, `Stay down, don't move.'"

Geckle said he struck the intruders with the butt of his shotgun when they attempted to get up and began "moving their hands toward their jackets."

When asked what he thinks when he hears the name of Jonathan Steinbach, who was killed that night, he simply repeated the man's name.

But Geckle, whose younger sister died in a car accident in 1983, added: "I feel sorry for his mother because my sister died when she was 17, and I saw what that did to my parents because it's hard for a parent to bury a child."

He said he never expected his brother would have to shoot the intruders: "I thought I would hear [them] enter the building. I thought I would be able to call 911. I thought I could sit there until the police showed up. I thought I could detain them until they came."

Geckle defended his brother and himself from critics who said they should have left the lights on to deter the break-in.

"If you want to protect your life, you better have them off," he said. "Lights on, I'm asleep. I'm a target now."

The brothers have always been close. When their father died in 1992, they took over the business and moved back into their childhood home in Essex. The Geckles had to do extensive renovation work on the house, which had been damaged in a fire set by burglars.

The brothers' relationship became strained, however, after the shootings. Matthew Geckle said his brother took the incident much harder than he did.

"I could not talk to him about what he needed to do to get through this," Geckle said. "We always fought all of our battles together, and this was the first time he was pushing me away."

Geckle said the brothers are using their Catholic faith to cope with the aftermath of the break-in.

"Do you fully heal from something like that?" he asked. "Never."

Asked what could be learned from the shootings, he said: "You cannot use deadly force to defend your property. You can only use deadly force to protect your life. And that is what my brother did."

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