DETROIT (WWJ/AP) – A judge has denied defense attorneys’ request to remove herself from a case of a Dearborn Heights man who fatally shot an unarmed 19-year old woman on his porch last fall.
Wayne County Judge Qiana Lillard rejected claims by attorneys for 54-year-old Theodore Wafer that her previous employment with the prosecutor’s office, some campaign contributions, and associations with its employees create an appearance of impropriety.
Defense attorney Cheryl Carpenter also asserts that Judge Lillard’s friendship with Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy and social media connections with other county prosecutors, including one with the prosecutor who is prosecuting the case, constitute a conflict.
Lillard denies that.
“This court doesn’t have any personal acquaintances … that would preclude it from being fair and impartial in this case or any other matter that might come before it,” Lillard said Friday.
“This court has not formed any opinion as it relates to the facts of this case. This court holds no bias in any side of this case,” she said.
Carpenter stressed in court and in her motion that she alleges no actual bias or improper conduct, but an appearance of it that could deny her client due process.
“The risk that Judge Lillard would subconsciously use personal and/or political relationships with the prosecution to Mr. Wafer’s detriment is simply too great here,” Carpenter wrote.
Judge Timothy Kenny, who presides over the court’s criminal division and is now handling the request, said “subconscious interpretations of other people’s behavior don’t go very far with me,” adding “I’m not going to play a sidewalk Sigmund Freud.” Still, he questioned whether it was appropriate for a prosecuting attorney on the case to be serving on a committee that’s raising money for the judge presiding over it.
Kenny said he will make his decision on April 25, and other matters and motions will be put on hold until the issue of recusal is resolved. The trial is scheduled to start June 2, though that could be delayed.
WWJ Legal Analyst Charlie Langton says this will not be an easy fight for the defense.
“General speaking, if the judge has personal knowledge of the case or knows a party, then obviously the judge can’t participate,” said WWJ Legal Analyst Charlie Langton. “But Judge Lillard refused to recuse herself, saying just because she received some campaign contributions from prosecutors, does not mean she’s biased.”
Langton said lawyers making contributions to campaigns for judges is extremely common.
“It’s limited, it’s a hundred dollars, and that’s not bias,” Langton said. “The judge has to show that she has had personal knowledge, or she knows a party, or she is so involved, that there’s so much prejudice, that she can’t hear a case. It’s a tough standard for the defense to recuse a judge.”
McBride, a Detroit resident, was shot outside Wafer’s home after she crashed driving drunk and wandered onto his front porch.
Wafer, who has said he believed McBride was trying to break in, is charged with second degree murder. Prosecutors he should’ve called police instead of shooting.
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