DETROIT (WWJ/AP) – A suburban Detroit homeowner who opened his front door and blasted an unarmed 19-year-old woman on his porch has been found guilty of second-degree murder.
The jury returned their verdict against 55-year-old Theodore Wafer after less than two days of deliberations.
Before the verdict was read, Thursday afternoon, the judge told courtroom to contain themselves, warning that outbursts would not be tolerated. “I have no problem locking up entire families,” he said.
Reporting from the courthouse, WWJ Newsradio 950’s Marie Osborne described the scene.
“The family of (victim) Renisha McBride — her mother holding her hands in front of her face with her hands folded as if in prayer, and rocking back and forth,” Osborne said. “Theodore Wafer remained completely expressionless during this entire time, during his trial, as well as during the reading of the verdict.”
In addition to the murder conviction, the jury also convicted Wafer of voluntary manslaughter and a felony firearm charge.
After the verdict was read, Wafer was immediately remanded into custody.
Wafer never denied shooting McBride when she showed up drunk on his porch before dawn, but testified that he did so in self-defense after she pounded on his door and allegedly tried to break into his Dearborn Heights home on Nov. 2.
McBride, who had an extremely high blood-alcohol level and traces of marijuana in her system, was shot in the face three hours after she walked away from a car crash in Detroit — about a half-mile away from Wafer’s home.
Wafer had been sleeping in a recliner and said he couldn’t immediately find his phone to call police when he awoke to an “unbelievable” pounding on his doors and feared for his life. He testified that he opened his front door and noticed the screen door had been tampered with, then opened the front door further before a figure emerged quickly from the side of the house. He said he raised his shotgun and fired.
“There was no pointing,” Wafer said, during cross-examination. “Just a self-defense reaction to protect myself.”
The shot hit McBride in the face, killing her instantly.
Prosecutors in their closing arguments repeatedly emphasized that Wafer had easier options than to directly confront McBride.
“She was a young girl looking for help,” prosecutor Patrick Muscat told jurors. “What he did had to be immediately necessary and it wasn’t. It was reckless. It was negligent. I don’t know how to describe it. It was horrific.
“How about shutting the door? … How about calling 911?” Muscat said. “No, what he does is he engages. He creates the confrontation.”
Muscat said Wafer shot McBride because he was upset and wanted a confrontation when she knocked on his door at 4:30 a.m. He said Wafer’s Mossberg 12 gauge shotgun with a pistol-grip handle “is a dangerous weapon, and the way he handled it – he handled it like a toy….And as a result, a 19-year-old is dead.”
But Wafer’s attorney Cheryl Carpenter said “fear hijacks the body,” arguing that Wafer’s actions were reasonable because he feared for his life.
“He armed himself. He was getting attacked,” Carpenter said in her closing argument. “Put yourselves in his shoes at 4:30 in the morning.”
In the aftermath of the shooting, some wondered whether race was a factor because Wafer is white and McBride was black. Race hasn’t been an issue at trial, although the prosecutor noted that McBride was “African-American” while cross-examining Wafer.
In her closing remarks, Carpenter said race isn’t a factor for the jury. She said Wafer was just a homeowner who was aware of crime in a neighborhood that borders Detroit and wanted to protect himself.
“In the heat of the moment our instincts are to survive,” she said. “He did not know it was a 19-year-old who got in a car crash at 1 a.m. What he knew was someone was trying to get in. It’s not for a good reason — it’s to hurt me.”
“Wafer is a cold blooded killer,” McBride’s father, Walter McBride told reporters on Thursday, adding that the man should have called the police.
Did Wafer make a mistaken by testifying in his own defense? He had to according to WWJ Legal Analyst Charlie Langton.
“Mr. Wafer had no choice but to take the stand. The old defense that he may have had was self defense, and the only way to get self defense is to testify,” Langton said. “Yes, there were inconsistent statements, and more than likely the jury hung Mr. Wafer on that basis alone.”
Sentencing for Wafer is set for Aug. 21.
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