Defense of Last Resort Part 1: The Shirtless Stranger
Defense of Last Resort
Part 1: The Shirtless Stranger
Charles and Barbara Dorsey were asleep in their beds at 1 a.m on July 21, 2019 when they were startled awake by someone knocking on their front door. Mr. Dorsey looked through a window and saw a shirtless man outside.
“He’s ringing the doorbell, asking to be let in,” said Howard County State’s Attorney Rich Gibson after reviewing the evidence. “At first, it’s calm and it’s jovial. . .but it rapidly escalates.”
Mrs. Dorsey dialed 911 and stayed on the line for approximately eight minutes while her husband shouted through the locked door, imploring the man to leave. Eventually he does. The Dorsey’s Ring doorbell camera captured the entire episode.
The Ring camera also captured what happened when the shirtless stranger returned, this time angry and agitated. According to the Dorsey’s attorney, Paul Mack, the stranger started “screaming obscenities and threatening bodily harm.” Ms. Dorsey again called 911. Video captures the intruder saying “I’m going to f— you up!” and “You want a piece of this s—?”
At the end of the 13-minute video of the ordeal, the shirtless stranger can be seen aggressively manipulating the front door handle until the lock fails and the door is breached. Mr. Dorsey fires a single round at the intruder, striking him in the left shoulder and penetrating his lung — a fatal shot. The 911 recording captured Mrs. Dorsey’s horrified screams. “Why did you do that?” she shouts. “He pushed the door open,” her husband replies. “He pushed the door open.”
The shirtless stranger was Gerardo Espinoza, a 46-year-old IT recruiter from Chantilly, Virgina. His friends, the Sweeneys’, had recently moved to Woodbine, Maryland, a rural bedroom west of Baltimore. They purchased a home next door to the Dorsey’s, a similar-looking house that partially shared a driveway. The Sweeney’s had invited the Espinoza’s to stay the night after an all day pool party.
“Maybe he went off the deck and was getting something from our vehicle,” Espinoza’s wife told reporters. “And when he was coming back got disoriented and actually went to the neighbor’s house that had a pool. It was another house with a pool, so I think he thought the house he was trying to get into was our friend’s house.” She was asleep at the time of the shooting.
“It is my belief that Mr. Espinoza thought his friends were pranking him,” the state’s attorney said. He added that it didn’t help that Espinoza’s blood alcohol level was 0.22 — nearly three times the legal limit for driving.
In the days following the shooting, Espinoza’s wife and the Sweeney’s spoke to reporters. They vouched for the character of their husband and friend. He was a father of two young adult children. He used to coach their sports teams. To stem the tide of negative press, the Doresy’s lawyer issued a statement. “Despite [Charles’] repeated pleas for him to leave, Espinoza forced the front door open. It was at that time that [Charles] exercised his right to self-defense and shot Espinoza one time.”
“This was a defense of last resort, after repeated warnings for the unknown intruder to leave their family home,” the statement reads. “They live in a very rural area and were left with no choice but to defend their lives and property.”
After a five-week investigation, the state’s attorney declined to file charges. Chief of Major Crimes Doug Nelsen said, “They acted under the belief they were in danger and that belief was reasonable based on all of the facts.”
Most of the self-defense cases we explore in our series “In Self-Defense” feature controversial shootings where the defenders make disastrous choices that frequently lead to incarceration. The Dorsey’s ordeal is clearly different because they did practically everything right, and their case serves as a great example for concealed carriers and gun owners concerned with home defense.
Here’s what the Dorsey’s did right: As soon as they recognized the potential threat at their front door, the wife called 911 while the husband tried to mitigate. Mr. Dorsey demonstrated tremendous restraint while he patiently pleaded with the stranger to leave the property. Even when the stranger returned, Mr. Dorsey refrained from firing his weapon until the intruder forced open the door and breached the threshold of his home. When he did finally pull the trigger, he fired only one round, which proved sufficient for eliminating the threat. Finally, when the entire tragic episode was over, Mr. Dorsey had the good sense to immediately hire an attorney who could help him navigate the criminal investigation that haunted his life for the next several weeks.
If we are to offer a criticism, it is this: the deadbolt on the front door was not secure. When Espinoza left after the first episode, police decided to canvas the neighborhood, looking for the suspect rather than going to the Dorsey residence. Based on a report from The Baltimore Sun, State’s Attorney Gibson said, “Charles Dorsey, who believed police were on their way, unlocked the deadbolt and left the door secured by only a single lock.” Mr. Dorsey had no legal obligation to engage the deadbolt on his door, and if he was expecting police, perhaps it is understandable that he had left it open, but had he left it the secure position, it’s likely Espinoza never would have gained access to the home, and Mr. Dorsey wouldn’t have to endure the nightmare of knowing he killed a man over a tragic misunderstanding.
We will be taking a closer look at the Dorsey case in the coming weeks. We’ll explore the importance of establishing thresholds in your home defense strategy; we’ll revisit other self-defense shootings that resulted from tragic misperceptions; and we will look at the role audio and video recordings play in the investigations of self-defense shootings.
SHAWN VINCENT- LITIGATION CONSULTANT
Shawn Vincent is a litigation consultant who helps select juries in self-defense cases, and he manages public interest of high-profile legal matters. If you have any questions for Shawn, or would like more articles like this, let us know belo