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Intruder breaks into historic Iowa home owned by martial arts master

NEWTON, Iowa — This did not end well for a man breaking into a historic Iowa home.

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The man confronted the homeowner, who was a veteran of the French army and a black belt in martial arts, and was quickly subdued, KCCI-TV reported.

Joseph Keith Mahl, 35, was arrested July 9 and charged with first-degree burglary, public intoxication and assault with intent to injure a law officer, according to Jasper County Sheriff’s Office online booking records.

Before that, he encountered Philippe Couillez, who has a black belt in aikido, the Newton Daily News reported. Couillez said he knocked Mahl down hard, but not enough to be severely injured -- just hard enough to subdue the alleged intruder until police arrived.

Philippe Couillez and his wife have lived in what is known as the August H. Bergman House in Newton since they bought it in 2019. The house, built in 1909, has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1989.

Megan Couillez was working in Des Moines in her job as a nurse on July 9 when she was notified of a break-in by her home security cameras, which were connected to her smartphone, the Daily News reported.

Philippe Couillez was in bed watching television at about 2 a.m. CDT when he heard a noise downstairs, according to the newspaper. His 5-year-old daughter was asleep and at first, he thought the family cat had knocked over a chair, which the feline had done the night before.

“And then I heard talking and I was saying, ‘My cat doesn’t talk,’” Philippe Couillez told KCCI.

Surveillance footage showed the intruder pushing his way through the front door and then closing it as if he lived there, according to the television station.

Philippe Couillez said he told the man, “What are you doing? Who are you? Get out of my house!”

“He started to yell at me saying, ‘Where is she? What are you doing in my house?” Philippe Couillez told KCCI, adding that he believed the intruder was intoxicated.

As Couillez called 911, he said the man continued yelling and attempted to punch him, according to the television station. He pushed the man down the stairs, but when the intruder got up and grabbed Couillez’s leg, the homeowner’s martial arts training kicked in.

“I punched him in the shoulder so he can let his grip go, pulled my knee up, and pushed him back down there,” Couillez told KCCI.

Police arrived and arrested Mahl. If convicted of the charges, he could face up to 25 years in prison for the burglary charge, the Daily News reported. His bail was set at $20,000.

Newton Police Chief Rob Burdess told the newspaper that it is rare to have a residential burglary occur in the town when the home is occupied. Most of the burglaries in Newton involve garages, vehicles or businesses, according to the newspaper.

“Homeowners have the right to protect life and property under Iowa Code Chapter 704,” Burdess told the Daily News. “The homeowners took appropriate actions to protect themselves and were able to subdue the suspect. We are fortunate that no one was seriously injured in this incident.”

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