February 18, 2013

Home invader caught

Victim said man didn’t seem threatening

By Nita Johnson
Staff Writer

LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. — Tuesday morning for Laurel resident John Duke began as any other. He was drinking his morning tea, watching Fox News, and talking to his cat.

But what happened next was far from usual and left the 70-year-old ex-cop wondering about the “what if’s” for the next two days.

Duke was the first victim of a series of attempted home invasions on Brannon Mill Road that spurred a day-long search by police and left residents of the area concerned for their own safety.

Laurel County Sheriff’s officials were out in full force Tuesday on a manhunt for 48-year-old Jeffery Sasser, who reportedly had tried to break into as many as four homes — while the residents were home — that morning. Sasser was allegedly armed with a .22 caliber revolver and had pulled the gun on Duke when he refused to let Sasser inside his home.

The day-long search began after Sasser knocked on Duke’s door just after 8 a.m. Duke said he opened the door slightly and engaged in a conversation with the man he did not know.

“He said he was looking for his granddaughter who had run away the night before,” Duke said. “He said she was 14 years old,. My heart always goes out when a kid is involved. I asked him if he’d called the police and he said it had to be 24 hours.”

Although Duke, an ex-police officer, said the statement should have set off a warning bell, his sympathy for a missing child overruled. However, he still didn’t open the door for the unknown man, and told him he would call the Kentucky State Police for him.

“That’s when he turned around like he was going to walk away. Then he turned back around and said, ‘What do I have to do to get you to open the door and let me inside?’ and pointed a gun in my face,” Duke said.

Immediately thinking of his wife sleeping inside, Duke said he slammed the door, locked it and called 9-1-1.

“Then I called my neighbors and told them a man with a gun was walking around and to lock their doors,” he said.

But Duke’s refusal didn’t deter the unknown man, whom Duke said later broke into a residence and took some food.

The entire incident left Duke bewildered, because the man showed no indication of threatening behavior prior to pulling the gun.

“The sheriff’s office came out immediately. The degree of professionalism they showed was exemplary.”

One of his neighbors was able to take a picture of the man. That picture and descriptions from other ld