Amid fatal home invasions, question persists: Why such violence?
Published: Saturday, January 21, 2012 at 6:04 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 21, 2012 at 6:04 p.m.
In a single-wide mobile home in the woodsy Three Rivers Estates in south Columbia County, several people in April said they experienced the anger of Austin Mark Jones — one of two suspects in the killing of an elderly Gainesville man in a home-invasion robbery.
Accused of stealing diamonds by a family friend, the 6-foot-6, 220-pound Jones pulled out a box cutter and threatened to cut the jugular of a 52-year-old woman who is all of 4 feet 11 inches tall, according to an arrest report. Jones swung the box cutter and almost hit her in the chest, according to the report.
Then Jones turned the cutter on the man accusing him of the theft, family friend Joshua Cashman, the report stated.
“That’s the way he was when he was on drugs,” Cashman told The Sun. “If he was high, he tended to fly off the handle.”
The beating death of 78-year-old Paul Quandt in his Blues Creek home on Jan. 9 was the latest in a run of violent home-invasion robberies that have targeted older people.
Quandt’s beating was extreme. Doctors performed brain surgery to try to save him, but he died about a week later.
The cases have raised the question — Why the violence?
Police and criminologists cite a number of potential factors — drugs, lack of conscience, lack of empathy. But some say an answer may not exist.
“It’s really anybody’s guess,” said Tom Blomberg, director of the Florida State University Center for Criminology and Criminal Justice.
Jones, 22, has a co-defendant — his 22-year-old cousin Maranda Martin of Gainesville. She is from Fort White and is related to the woman Jones was accused of threatening with the box cutter, netting him an arrest for aggravated assault and other crimes, according to police.
Martin knew Quandt. She served as a home aide when she worked for the Gainesville franchise of Comfort Keepers, a national company that provides in-home services, although she had stopped working for the company by the time the attack on Quandt occurred.
Authorities said it was through Martin that Quandt was targeted. The crime — at least from Martin’s statements — was to be just a robbery.
Police said Jones is not talking to them but Martin is. An officer close to the case said Quandt did nothing to provoke Jones — he did not resist, he was not armed. The beating began when Quandt was being bound, police said.
At 11:48 p.m., Quandt rang the doorbell of his next-door neighbor. He was in his motorized scooter, and bloody. While he was still able to communicate, Quandt told his neighbor that a man and a woman wearing masks came into his home, cut him and beat him after binding him with duct tape.
Quandt used oil to free himself from the tape and managed to get in his scooter to get to the neighbor’s home. He was taken to Shands, where he died on Jan. 18.
Police allege that Jones and Martin left in Quandt’s white Cadillac, which had a lift for his scooter on the back.
Police said that Jones and Martin were returning to the house, in part to get the car they drove there, and realized that Quandt had freed himself. At the same time, police were arriving.
They spotted Jones in Quandt’s car and stopped him after a chase through Gainesville at speeds of up to 100 mph.
When the chase ended, police said they found blood on his gloves and boots. Jones’ hands were swollen and Quandt’s possessions were in the car, police said.
Jones’ threats with the box cutter indicated a propensity toward violence, experts said. But his mother, Sherry Richards, said Jones beating up another person would be out of character. Richards said her son was a helpful person with a sweet, loving demeanor.
“My son is not a violent person,” said Richards, who added she is heartsick for the Quandt family. “My son has mental problems, my son has health problems, but my son is the type of person who would do anything for anybody — very respectful.”
Martin, meanwhile, had nothing in her background to indicate she would be involved in something like this, said police and Lynn Domenech, owner of the Gainesville Comfort Keepers.
Domenech said extensive background checks that go beyond what is required by the state are done on employees and include fingerprinting with an FBI check, criminal background checks, a driver’s license check and drug screening. A national criminal check is done every three months.
Martin was not working for Comfort Keepers at the time of the home invasion, and Domenech would not say whether Martin was fired or left on her own.
“Unfortunately, you don’t have a record until you do something,” Domenech said. “As soon as we found out about this, we went right to her application to make sure everything was perfect, and it was. She had two glowing job references.”
The murder of Quandt was the most recent of several violent crimes targeting seniors. In Union County, 69-year-old William Couch was killed on Jan. 6 when suspects beat him with a tool. His wife was also injured.
Robbers targeted several seniors in home invasions late last year that including beatings.
Chris Gibson, assistant professor in the UF Department of Sociology and Criminology and a W.E.B. Du Bois Fellow for the National Institute of Justice, said it is likely a complex array of individual and situational factors that explain why perpetrators of violent crimes resort to extreme behaviors.
But Gibson added that research shows propensities for violent behavior are real.
People with violent tendencies are likely to have a number of human deficits including subtle neurological deficiencies that affect reasoning abilities and problem-solving skills, he said.
“Individuals who are highly impulsive, lack tolerance for frustrating situations, possess risk-seeking tendencies, and have limited empathy towards others are much more likely to engage in violence and other forms of antisocial behaviors than those who do not possess these traits,” Gibson said in an email to The Sun. “Such individuals are summarized as having low self-control, lack self-regulation and forethought, and are less likely to consider the consequences of their actions. Their personalities can be compared to a loaded gun waiting for the trigger to be pulled.”