Monica McBride, mother of Renisha McBride, cries during the reading of verdict against Theodore Wafer on Thursday. Walter Ray Simmons, Renisha's father is to the right of McBride. (Clarence Tabb Jr / The Detroit News)
Detroit Detroit — Theodore Wafer’s conviction in the fatal shooting of Renisha McBride on the front porch of his Dearborn Heights home in the middle of the night closes a chapter in a racially charged case that spotlighted the conditions under which a man can defend himself with fatal force on his own property.
On Thursday, Wafer was convicted by a Wayne County jury of four African-Americans and eight whites of second-degree murder, manslaughter and using a firearm in the commission of a felony in the Nov. 2 killing of McBride, a 19-year-old Detroiter.
The case, which became a national story, drew comparisons to the Trayvon Martin killing in Florida. Some, however, say those comparisons were a stretch. In both cases, the shooter was white and the victim was black.
Local community activist Ron Scott, who attended the trial with the McBride family and helped organized a memorial vigil for Renisha McBride said Thursday afternoon: “The decision rendered today by a jury of Mr. Wafer's peers -- black, white, Middle Eastern, city and suburban -- represents a quest for justice and the rule of law over acrimony and vengeance. “
The verdict came during the second day of deliberations. Wafer, 55, showed no emotion when the verdict was announced. Wayne County Circuit Judge Dana Hathaway revoked his bond and ordered him to jail immediately. He is scheduled to be sentenced on Aug. 25 and faces life imprisonment.
After hearing the verdict Monica McBride, the victim’s mother hugged prosecutors Athina Siringas, Pat Muscat and Terry Anderson.
“I kept the faith,” she later told reporters.
Walter Simmons, the victim’s father, called Wafer “ a cold-blooded killer” and said he hopes he is sentenced to life imprisonment.
Cheryl Carpenter, Wafer’s defense attorney had no comment on the verdict.
“We are obviously very pleased with the jury verdict and feel that justice was served today,” said Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy. “We sincerely hope that this brings some comfort to the family of Renisha McBride.”
Wafer faced both murder and manslaughter charges in the case. In cases where a defendant’s state of mind is in question, it’s not uncommon for prosecutors to bring both murder and manslaughter charges, said Peter Henning, a professor of legal ethics and criminal law at Wayne State University, and a former prosecutor with the U.S. Department of Justice.
“Charging a defendant with both manslaughter and murder allows the government to not be locked in to proving only murder,” Henning said. “If they can’t prove he had the intent to kill, maybe they can prove he was at least reckless. In this case, they were able to prove both; if you have murder, you had to have had manslaughter as well.”
However, Wafer can only be punished for one of the crimes, Henning said.
“Prosecutors will likely drop the manslaughter charge, and he’ll be sentenced on the second-degree murder charge,” he said. “You can’t sentence him for both. So usually, prosecutors drop the lesser charge.”
During the trial, the prosecution repeatedly highlighted the conflicting accounts of the fatal shooting that Wafer gave to authorities, telling a 911 operator that the shooting was an accident but telling police he acted in self-defense.
Police who investigated the shooting said they found no evidence of anyone trying to break into Wafer’s home nor did they find any weapons on or near McBride’s body.
Farmington Hills trial attorney Arnold Reed said Wafer’s attorneys’ decision to put him on the stand was a necessity because they claimed self-defense.
“The defense had no other choice,” said Reed on Thursday. “The defense had no one else who would have been able to establish he was in fear for his life.”
Reed also said the comparison to the Trayvon Martin case was flawed.
“There is no evidence race played a role,” Reed said.
During his 11-day trial, prosecutors characterized Wafer as an angry and paranoid man who kept a loaded Mossberg 500 shotgun at his home after he suspected neighborhood kids were responsible for vandalizing his vehicle with paint balls.
“He wanted a confrontation,” said Assistant Wayne County Prosecutor Pat Muscat during closing arguments Wednesday. “He wanted the neighborhood kids to leave him alone. He had had enough of the paint balls.”
McBride, prosecutors said, “had the misfortune” of showing up on Wafer’s porch looking for help more than three hours after a single-car crash a mile away. Wafer was primed for a confrontation because of the vandalism to his vehicle and thought the pranksters were back.
Wafer testified that he feared for his life after hearing banging on his side and front doors.
He said the incident happened “too fast ... too fast.” He said he pulled the trigger “to protect myself, to save myself. It was them or me.”
Wafer testified that he went to the door and opened it and fired through the screen door, striking McBride, who jumped from the side into his view. He called 911 at 4:42 a.m. Nov. 2 to report the shooting.
“He raised the gun and he shot and he killed Renisha McBride,” Muscat told jurors. “She’s not here to tell you what happened that night because of his actions. He shot her through a locked door.”
Witnesses on the street where the victim crashed her car said she was bloody, dazed and disoriented when she left the scene, heading west on Warren Avenue in the general direction of Wafer’s neighborhood following the crash around 1 a.m. Nov. 2.
The teen’s family says she probably picked Wafer’s home because it looked like her family’s Detroit home. They said she was looking for help. She also was drunk -- three times the legal limit -- and had marijuana in her system, according to a toxicology report from the Wayne County Medical Examiner’s Office.
Taking the stand in his own defense Monday, Wafer cried as he talked about fatal shooting.
“So devastating,” he testified during questioning by his attorney. “This poor girl. She had her whole life in front of her. I took that from her,” Wafer said, crying and holding his hands together.
In her closing remarks, Carpenter said Wafer was consumed with fear that November morning.
“(McBride) was coming from the side at Mr. Wafer,” Carpenter said Wednesday. “Mr. Wafer was terrorized in his own home. There’s pounding and pounding (on the doors). It’s reasonable that you are in fear for your life.”
Asked why he opened the door and fired, Wafer answered, “I thought they were going to come through ... I didn’t want to cower. I didn’t want to be a victim in my own house.”