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Defense paints Pasadena homeowner as a ‘saint’ before shooting acquaintance in self-defense. Prosecutors say he was laying in wait with a shotgun.

The Pasadena homeowner accused of fatally shooting a man trespassing on his property last year had gone out of his way to help the carpenter and had given him an opportunity to turn his life around, a defense attorney said at the beginning of his murder trial Monday.

But Jeffrey Dickinson showed up at the suburban property in Pasadena deranged, drunk and under the influence of drugs, attorney Peter O’Neill said. Gregory Korwek tried everything to deter him but Dickinson ignored his instruction to stay away, threatened him and showed up on a motor scooter Korwek gifted him with “evil intent on his mind.”

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Only after he’d called the police and retreated into his garage, did Korwek unleash a blast from his Mossberg shotgun. His fear was palpable and it was reasonable to resort to deadly force, O’Neil told the jury during opening arguments in Annapolis.

Dickinson, 44, died outside the house on Orr Court on the morning of Sept. 18, 2019. Scores of Anne Arundel County police officers responded to the scene. Detectives canvassed the cul-de-sac, diving into a months-long investigation. Korwek first faced dozens of firearms and drug offenses. Weeks later, police filed charges for a much more serious crime: murder.

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The firearms and drug offenses were split into another case, which will be tried in November. In the meantime, it’s up to the jury to decide if the fatal shooting amounts to second-degree murder, manslaughter, or an acquittal on grounds of self-defense. Korwek, 41, pleaded guilty Monday to one count of possessing the shotgun despite being convicted of a disqualifying offense years before.

Korwek’s attorneys don’t dispute he shot and killed Dickinson, only the motivation.

As is often the case, prosecutors painted a different picture.

Assistant State’s Attorney Jason Steinhardt said Korwek was “lying in wait armed with a shotgun. That does not become self-defense, ladies and gentleman of the jury, because it happened in (Korwek’s) driveway.”

Steinhardt told jurors they’d have to decide whether Korwek’s self-defense was “reasonable and proportional.” Deadly force would be difficult to justify, Steinhardt said, because Dickinson was found to have been unarmed.

He said an audio recording of Korwek’s 911 call before the shooting should help convince jurors that he wasn’t afraid for his life.

“You’re going to hear the story of a man who did his best to shoot first and cover up his tracks later,” Steinhardt said.

When charging him with murder, police said Korwek lied about what led up to the shooting. Dickinson made no threats, the investigators said.

In his opening remarks, Steinhardt acknowledged the presence of drugs and alcohol in Dickinson’s system. He said medical examiners found out about the substances during a routine part of an autopsy.

O’Neill highlighted what Steinhardt glanced over. He said toxicologists found cocaine and fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid, in Dickinson’s system and a blood alcohol content of .12 at 9:30 that morning. O’Neill said a urine screening suggested he was twice as intoxicated.

“Ladies and gentleman, he’s drunk," O’Neill said.

In Maryland, someone with a blood alcohol content of .07 is considered impaired and someone with .08 and above is considered under the influence. If someone is caught driving, the former can lead to driving while impaired charge and driving under the influence for the latter.

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O’Neill rejected Steinhardt’s claim that Korwek was waiting to kill Dickinson. He said an inventory of text messages showed just the opposite, and encouraged jurors to read the communication themselves.

“If you’re going to lay in wait, why call the police?” O’Neill said.

He elaborated on Korwek and Dickinson’s relationship, which Steinhardt had described as employer-employee. A contractor, Korwek hired Dickinson to help around his house in preparation for an event to support his young son, who has leukemia. After Dickinson helped with the “cancer-versary" party, O’Neill said Korwek found him work with his friend Justin Fiorenza, who ran a pier construction business.

Despite barely knowing Dickinson, Korwek helped him out. O’Neill said Korwek and his wife gave him food and found him a better place to live. Korwek drove him to and from jobs and forwarded him cash. O’Neill said Korwek even bought a motorized scooter for Dickinson to give to his own son.

“This gentleman’s a saint,” O’Neill said, gesturing to his client.

Korwek, who’s been on house arrest for the better part of the last year, appeared next to his attorneys in coat, tie and khakis. Korwek is expected to take the stand in support of his defense, relinquishing his Fifth Amendment right to remain silent.

Fiorenza fired Dickinson after catching him drinking on the job. O’Neill said Dickinson flushed the opportunity down the toilet — “He can’t stay sober.” And when the dispute with Fiorenza escalated, he said Dickinson turned his attention to Korwek.

Dickinson hadn’t given the motorized scooter to his son after all. Instead, O’Neill said authorities found it just 18-inches from the threshold to Korwek’s garage the morning Dickinson died.

Before riding over, Dickinson threatened to burn Korwek’s house down and said that he knew where Korwek’s mother-in-law lived and that she’d meet the same fate if Korwek fled. O’Neill said the threats showed Korwek was justified to kill.

“It’s a shame that Jeffery Dickinson had to die,” he said. “But shame does not equate to guilt.”

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