November 15, 2013 at 1:00 am

Dearborn Heights homeowner charged with murder of teen

Renisha McBride's parents speak
Renisha McBride's parents speak: They say they're still trying to understand why a Dearborn Heights homeowner shot her in the face after she banged on his door.

Dearborn Heights— The parents of a Detroit teenager shot and killed while seeking help after a car crash welcomed a decision Friday to charge a Dearborn Heights man with second-degree murder.

Speaking about an hour after prosecutors announced charges against Theodore Paul Wafer, 54, the parents of Renisha McBride, 19, said they’re still trying to understand why he shot her in the face after she banged on his door on a cold, rainy early morning Nov. 2.

“I can’t imagine in my wildest dreams what that man feared from her,” said her mother, Monica McBride.

In announcing the charges, Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy said the teen was unarmed and didn’t try to break into Wafer’s house after a car accident a mile away. McBride was shot through a locked screen door shortly after 4:30 a.m., Worthy added.

Toxicology results released this week showed McBride had a blood alcohol content of 0.218, more than twice the legal limit, and trace amounts of marijuana in her body. Her family’s attorney, Gerald Thurswell, said McBride needed help and got shot in the face.

“She may have been boisterous, may have been loud (and) noisy, but there was no evidence that she attempted to break into Wafer’s house,” Thurswell said. “This man had absolutely no justification to take his shotgun and blow her head off. He was safe.

“There was no physical confrontation,” he added. “We know she was intoxicated, but that does not give anybody the right to blow off her head.”

The case has attracted national attention and interest from civil rights leaders because of race and debate about the limits of protecting one’s home. Wafer is white. McBride was black.

Wafer wore jeans and a T-shirt and said nothing during his arraignment Friday in 19th District Court. He faces up to life in prison if convicted of second-degree murder, manslaughter and possession of a firearm in a felony. Bond was set at $250,000, and he’s due back in court Dec. 18 for a preliminary hearing.

“He will be exonerated ... because of the time and (McBride’s) conditions,” said Mack Carpenter, one of Wafer’s attorneys.

McBride was a 2012 Southfield High School graduate who and loved animals. Wafer is a 20-year maintenance worker at Detroit Metropolitan Airport who cares for his 81-year-old mother and hasn’t had a brush with the law since two drunken driving convictions about 20 years ago.

Their lives collided after McBride’s 2004 Ford Taurus struck a parked car in the 7200 block of Bramell near Warren in Detroit about 12:57 a.m. She walked away from the car and returned to the crash site about a half hour later. Witnesses said she was bloody and disoriented, and walked away again. Worthy did not say what happened over the next few hours.

At 4:42 a.m., Wafer phoned 911 from his home on West Outer Drive, recordings released Friday show.

“I just shot somebody on my front porch with a shotgun, banging on my door,” Wafer told dispatchers.

The heavily redacted police reports indicate Wafer allegedly shot the teen once in the face with a Mossberg 12-gauge shotgun and had been cooperative with officers.

“Wafer walked out of the side door with his hands out to the sides as officers were approaching the house,” the report reads, adding that Wafer directed police to the gun.

McBride was found dead on the porch, wearing black boots, dark blue jeans and a blue zip-up hooded sweatshirt. She had $56 and her license in her pocket. There were no signs the front door was pried or kicked, according to the report.

Worthy said Wafer opened the front door and shot McBride through the screen door.

“The evidence will show that self-defense was not warranted,” Worthy said.

“Under Michigan law, there is no duty to retreat in your own home; however, someone who claims self-defense must honestly and reasonably believe that he is in imminent danger of either losing his life or suffering great bodily harm, and that the use of deadly force is necessary to prevent that harm.”

Speaking at a press conference later Friday, the teen’s father, Walter Ray Simmons, and her mother, said she would help anyone, loved soccer and had two sisters. “They don’t get the opportunity to see her blossom and grow,” said Simmons, who called her killer a monster. “He took that from my family. It’s a tragedy. He will get what he deserves at this trial I believe.”

Wafer graduated from Fordson High School in Dearborn and attended Northern Michigan University for about a year. He sought a restraining order in Wayne County Circuit Court in 1995 against an ex-girlfriend who he claimed broke into his home.

“The likelihood of him being a danger to society is very, very small,” his attorney, Carpenter, told the court Friday. “Because of the nature of this crime, it occurred in the early morning hours, he had been sleeping, we feel that he poses a low risk to the community.”

One local attorney, Arnold Reed, who is not involved in the case, said the defense must show Wafer feared for his life when he shot McBride.

“In order to do so, he must take the witness stand at trial and explain exactly how and why he was in fear for his life, when there was no struggle or evidence of forced entry, his screen door was locked and he opened fire on an unarmed victim,” Reed said.

“The defense’s task, as compared to that of the prosecution’s, is akin to climbing Mount Everest backwards in flip flops.”

Civil rights leaders have closely monitored the case. The website ColorOfChange.org had collected more than 40,000 electronic signatures seeking charges, but Worthy said the related publicity did not influence the decision to charge Wafer.

“Undoubtedly, there has been enormous interest in this case, but we do not make decisions in our cases based upon public opinion. We go where the facts and evidence lead us,” said Worthy, flanked by Dearborn Heights police during the announcement outside her offices.

Officials for groups including the NAACP and National Action Network said they plan to monitor the case, including jury selection. Racially diverse juries have sometimes been an issue in Wayne County.

The Rev. Wendell Anthony, president of the Detroit Branch NAACP, applauded the charges and said McBride’s intoxication is a “major distraction” from the tragedy.

“This smells to some like a lack of sobriety should justify homicidal impropriety,” Anthony said. “Intoxication or sobriety is no justification for reckless and irresponsible shooting and ultimately destroying a viable life. One should be able to seek help from his neighbor, whether sober or intoxicated.”

bwilliams@detnews.com
(313) 222-2027

Walter Ray Simmons, left, and Monica McBride, Renisha McBride's parents, speak Friday. / Steve Perez / The Detroit News
McBride
Walter Ray Simmons, left, and Monica McBride, Renisha McBride's parents, ... (Steve Perez / The Detroit News)
Theodore Wafer stands before Judge Mark Plawecki in Dearborn Heights on ... (David Coates / The Detroit News)
Wayne County Prosector Kim Worthy announces charges against Theodore Paul ... (Max Ortiz / The Detroit News)