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Woodbine homeowner won’t face charges for fatally shooting intruder, Howard County state’s attorney says

Footage from Charles Dorsey's doorbell camera released Tuesday by the Howard County State's Attorney's office shows Gerardo " Gary" Espinoza as he tried to gain entry into the Woodbine home before being shot by Dorsey, followed by an excerpt showing Dorsey being detained by Howard County Police.

In the doorbell video, the man wears only shorts, a watch and a cross around his neck. It’s 1:04 a.m. July 21 in residential Woodbine, and Gerardo “Gary” Espinoza wants to gain entry to the house. He rings the doorbell; he knocks; he yells.

The video, screened Tuesday for reporters by the Howard County State’s Attorney’s Office, shows Espinoza’s frustration level rising. The homeowner commands him to go. He shouts more aggressively, with threats and obscenities. He leaves and comes back. Finally, he breaks down the door and is immediately felled by a single shot from homeowner Charles Dorsey.

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State’s Attorney Rich Gibson on Tuesday announced that his office was declining to prosecute Dorsey in Espinoza’s death, saying the use of lethal force was legal.

The “horrible loss of life in this case is a product of a series of unfortunate coincidences that all came together to end in a horrific result,” he said. Gibson expressed “deep sorrow” to Espinoza’s family for their loss but said “there was no criminal violation that occurred in this incident.”

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Rebecca Allen, Espinoza’s sister, later Tuesday expressed shock and disappointment at the decision. She said prosecutors “should at least have brought it to trial and let a jury decide.”

“I’m just dumbfounded they aren’t going to pursue anything. My brother clearly had been outside the door, and it was clearly locked. It’s not like he tried to break his way in. He didn’t break a window,” Allen said. “We don’t think this is right.”

The Dorsey family’s attorney, Paul Mack, said the Dorseys “appreciate the thoughtful determination of Mr. Gibson’s office.”

“However, they are mindful that this was a tragic situation, and their thoughts and prayers are extended to Mr. Espinoza’s family and friends," Mack said.

The case reviewed by prosecutors included evidence gathered by the Howard County Police Department. They reviewed doorbell camera footage, the Dorsey family’s front door, witness interviews, statements from Dorsey and his wife Barbara, 911 calls and Espinoza’s toxicology report, which showed significant amounts of alcohol in his system.

Tuesday’s news conference revealed the chronology of the night of the killing. The events unfolded over 13 minutes, Gibson said. The State’s Attorney’s Office showed nearly 4 minutes of the doorbell camera footage at the press conference, including the moment Espinoza was shot.

At 1:04 a.m., while the Dorseys were sleeping, Espinoza knocked on their door, the footage shows. He can be heard repeating his own first name. He left the front door, only to shortly return and knock again.

Gibson said Espinoza mistook Dorsey’s home for that of a friend he was visiting at the time. Gibson said he believes Espinoza considered his being locked out of the house a friend’s prank.

From inside the house located off Carriage Mill Road, Dorsey told Espinoza to “get away from the door, get away from the door,” and to go down the driveway.

“This was done in an effort to make [it] easier for the police to apprehend Espinoza," Gibson said.

Barbara Dorsey called 911 and stayed on the phone with a dispatcher for about eight minutes, according to Mack.

Espinoza left and came back to the door. Initially, he was calm but then became agitated “with a prank that he perceives is going on too long,” Gibson said.

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Espinoza left again, and Barbara Dorsey, aware Espinoza had gone, told the 911 dispatcher that the man knocking on her door had left. Gibson said police drove past the house, looking for the suspect. Charles Dorsey, who believed the police were on their way, unlocked the deadbolt and left the door secured by only a single lock, Gibson said.

Espinoza returned and hurled obscenities and eventually began “to knock the door and rock the door more aggressively,” Gibson said.

“Due to a defect in the door lock, the door when being physically jostled by Mr. Espinoza gives way [and] Mr. Espinoza breaches the household with his arm,” opening the door and entering the home, Gibson said.

When Espinoza was inside, Dorsey fired a single shot that hit Espinoza in the shoulder and punctured his lung, Gibson said. Dorsey was in lawful possession of the firearm, Gibson said.

“Espinoza’s behavior seemed to indicate a desire to harm the people in the house,” Gibson said. “Espinoza did not literally mean the words he was saying at the door. But it’s equally clear there was no way for the Dorsey family to know that he did not intend exactly what he stated.”

Gibson said Espinoza’s alcohol levels were extremely high just before he died ⁠— .22 in his blood and .28 in his urine. In Maryland, the legal limit for drivers’ blood alcohol content is 0.08. At .20, one feels extremely disoriented. Blood alcohol content of .25 heightens the risk of “asphyxiation from choking on vomit and of seriously injuring yourself by falling or other accidents,” according to Screening for Mental Health, a nonprofit organization that coordinates nationwide health screening programs.

Gibson met with Espinoza’s wife, Joanne, and her sisters and their attorneys Tuesday morning for two hours to “try and explain everything that went into this case.”

“They are obviously a family that is in grief. Their reaction was sadness,” Gibson said.

“I think it’s reasonable that they not be thrilled with the outcome in the terms of our decision in this matter. But I’d like to believe that they understand why we reached the conclusion that we reached. We didn’t just look at the [doorbell camera] video and say, ‘Ah, case closed; we got enough.’ We looked at the other factors.”

Gibson added, “My honest belief is that Mr. Espinoza thought he was being pranked and the prank had gone on too far.”

Howard County prosecutors probed filing charges against Dorsey since late July. Legal experts say Maryland law allows for lethal force to be used in defense of oneself under “reasonable circumstance.”

Gibson outlined multiple requirements prosecutors abide by when determining to whether file charges in a self-defense case, including that the shooter cannot be the primary aggressor. The law of self-defense in Maryland requires the accused to have retreated before using lethal force.

At a residence, however, “there’s no duty to retreat in one’s home,” Gibson said. “It is clear there was no crime that occurred, although there was a terrible loss of life."

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