Two charged in Monticello break-in

Two University of Virginia students added their names to Monticello’s storied history over the weekend by apparently becoming the first people ever charged with breaking into Thomas Jefferson’s famous Charlottesville, Va., area home, according to an estate spokesman.

One of the students described the incident as a harmless, nostalgic nighttime stroll across the lush lawn, saying he and his friend never entered the red-brick plantation house. But police called it something much more sinister — a felony.

Two undergraduate nursing students, Conner Hyland Ginley, 20, and Heather Lynn Horn, 22, were charged with breaking and entering after a security officer spotted them on the grounds early Sunday. If convicted, they face up to five years in prison. Authorities said nothing was stolen and none of the third president’s belongings was damaged.

In a telephone interview Monday, Ginley said he and Horn attended a Saturday evening celebration of the Raven Society, an honor society inspired by one of the university’s most famous former students, Edgar Allan Poe. Horn is a member, Ginley said.

Ginley said that afterward he and Horn went for a walk around the historic estate and reminisced about their time at school. He said they stood in one of Monticello’s porches, which is partially enclosed, and peered into a window but never went into the house.

"We were just appreciating Monticello," he said. "We were just walking around enjoying ourselves. We didn’t damage anything."

Horn did not return calls seeking comment.

Albemarle County, Va., police spokesman Lt. Earl Newton said a security guard on duty heard wooden shutters banging in the area of the porch and a woman’s voice about 2 a.m. Sunday. He said the officer found that a window on the porch was open. The open window led to a greenhouse, he said.

Newton said Ginley and Horn were stopped outside the white-columned house, which attracts 500,000 visitors a year.

Wayne Mogielnicki, a Monticello spokesman, said the case apparently is the first in which someone has been charged with breaking into and entering the house. He said the home has 24-hour security and an alarm system. Mogielnicki said that, most likely, the incident can be chalked up to "the dumb stuff all of us do in college."

Still, he said, any damage would be a loss to history.

"We treat it seriously, because a lot of stuff in here is irreplaceable," he said. "Even if someone’s intent was not malevolent, they could unintentionally do something."

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