Appeals court: Resentence Wafer in teen’s porch slaying

Oralandar Brand-Williams
The Detroit News
The judge erred in an aspect of Theodore Wafer’s sentencing in the 2014 murder case, a panel ruled.

The Dearborn Heights homeowner convicted of shooting a teenager to death as she stood on his front porch should get a new hearing on his sentence, the Michigan Court of Appeals announced Wednesday.

A three-judge panel of the court ruled Wayne Circuit Judge Dana Hathaway erred in ruling she could not “go below the (sentencing) guidelines” when she sentenced Theodore Wafer in August 2014.

The court did uphold Wafer’s conviction, however, of second-degree murder, manslaughter and the use of a firearm in the commission of a felony in the shooting of unarmed 19-year-old Renisha McBride, a stranded motorist knocking at his door in the early morning of Nov. 2, 2013.

“Because the trial court’s compulsory adherence to the guidelines range was erroneous, in keeping with (case law) we remand for ... proceedings,” according to the opinion by judges Cynthia Stephens, Joel Hoekstra and Deborah Servitto.

Wafer, a former airport maintenance worker, is serving his sentence in the Alger Correctional Facility in Munising in the Upper Peninsula. He was given 15-30 years in prison for the murder count and 7-15 years for the manslaughter charge. He also received a mandatory two-year consecutive sentence on a felony firearm charge.

Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office spokeswoman Maria Miller said Wednesday “We’re pleased that the conviction was affirmed.”

McBride’s aunt, Bernita Spinks, blasted Wafer’s appeal and the court’s ruling saying he doesn’t deserve any more hearings. Spinks said Wafer is doing less time than others who have been convicted of murder.

“Here’s a murderer who has only served two years in prison asking for an appeal,” she said. “He should have gotten the death penalty. In another state he would have.”

Spinks added: “My niece is dead. He’s still alive. He took a baby’s life. (Renisha) was not out to harm anybody.”

The judges also rejected Wafer’s appeal of his argument claiming double jeopardy on his murder and manslaughter convictions for the same offense.

“Indeed, while defendant frames his argument as one involving double jeopardy principles, in actuality his complaint is that the jury reached inconsistent verdicts insofar as it convicted him of both second-degree murder requiring malice and statutory involuntary manslaughter, ... which must be committed without malice. ... this claim of inconsistency does not amount to a double jeopardy violation.”

The judges added the Michigan Legislature is not always clear on the question of allowing multiple punishments and when it is not, Michigan courts are left to apply “abstract legal elements.”

Servitto dissented, writing, “Given the (Michigan) Legislature’s awareness of the requisite element of malice for second degree murder and its express exclusion of a malice element in the manslaughter statute, I would find that the Legislature expressed a clear intent ... to prohibit multiple punishments for these two crimes.

“Defendant’s convictions of and punishments for both second degree murder and manslaughter in the death of one person thus violated the multiple punishments strand of double jeopardy.”

Wafer will not be required to attend the proceedings when the court makes its decision on whether to resentence him, but if he is resentenced, he is required by law to be in the courtroom.

The legal grounds for sending the case back to the trial court is partly based on a Michigan Supreme Court ruling, People v. Lockridge, allowing a defendant to appeal sentencing guidelines citing factors not accounted for in scoring them.

Prosecutors and the teen’s relatives believe McBride was seeking help after a single-car accident less than a mile away from Wafer’s home.

Wafer, 55, said he feared for his life and thought McBride, who was intoxicated at the time, was an intruder trying to break into his home when he opened his front door and shot her in the face through a screen door.

McBride’s family received an undisclosed financial settlement in the teen’s death. The court sealed details of the agreement.

Wafer took the witness stand during his trial for the fatal shooting of McBride, saying he thinks about the shooting often.

“So devastating,” he testified. “This poor girl. She had her whole life in front of her. I took that from her. I only wish that I could take this horrible tragedy back.”

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