Those who knew him said the gesture was typical of Ronald Fischman.
When the popular cantor at a Roxborough synagogue encountered a homeless gay couple four years ago, Fischman invited them to live in his East Mount Airy home.
That gesture later cost him his life. Fischman was stabbed to death on Sept. 30 while intervening in a heated confrontation involving the then-estranged couple.
Jonathan Williams was accused of stabbing the 54-year-old Fischman 10 times in the back with a kitchen knife, and admitted as much to Philadelphia homicide detectives, according to a statement read into the record by Detective Timothy Scally during a preliminary hearing Tuesday. Williams' statement was supplemented by testimony from his ex-boyfriend, Gordon Branch.
"He was telling me to calm down over and over again, and I just lost it. I couldn't get to Gordon to talk to him and I took it out on Ron," Williams, 33, told police.
Municipal Court Judge James M. DeLeon ordered Williams, 33, also known as William James, to stand trial on a general charge of murder and other counts related to the late-night break-in at Fischman's home in the 200 block of East Phil-Ellena Street.
On the witness stand, Branch, 34, recounted the events that ended with Fischman's killing, testifying he was so terrified of Williams that he barred himself in a second-floor bedroom and later jumped from a window to escape.
Branch refused the routine request of Assistant District Attorney Joseph Whitehead Jr. to identify the defendant - Williams - in court.
"I can't bear to look at him," Branch responded.
Williams' lawyers, Wendy Ramos and Constance Clarke, declined to comment after the hearing.
Whitehead called Fischman, a member of Mishkan Shalom synagogue, a "tragic victim" who "tried to do the right thing."
According to Williams' statement, Fischman asked the men to leave his house about a year ago, after his ex-wife said she did not want them there when their young children were staying with him. Fischman was divorced and the father of two children.
Again homeless, Williams began living in a nearby abandoned building. But then he learned that Fischman had invited Branch to stop by the house any time his children were not there.
At 11:19 p.m. Sept. 30, Williams broke into Fischman's house through a basement window. When Branch saw him coming up the stairs, Williams' statement continued, Branch fled to an upstairs bedroom and blocked the door.
Williams said he went down to the kitchen, got a knife, and went back upstairs but was intercepted by Fischman.
Ramos argued that Williams should only face trial on a count of third-degree murder, calling the stabbing a "classic crime of passion."
The judge, however, agreed with Whitehead that Williams' leaving Branch behind a locked bedroom door and going to the kitchen to get a knife opens the possibility that the crime was premeditated, or first-degree murder.
"When he went down to get that knife," DeLeon said. "That's the problem with this case."