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Michigan’s high court to weigh porch shooting case

Oralandar Brand-Williams
The Detroit News

The Michigan Supreme Court will weigh in on whether to grant an appeal in the case of a Dearborn Heights homeowner convicted in the fatal shooting of a black woman on his porch more than three years ago.

Theodore Wafer, a former airport maintenance worker at Detroit Metro Airport, is serving a 15-30 year sentence for murder and 7-15 years for manslaughter in the Alger Correctional Facility in Munising in the Upper Peninsula. He also received a mandatory two-year consecutive sentence on a felony firearm charge.

In her briefs to the Michigan Supreme Court, Wafer’s appellate attorney, Jacqueline McCann, argued that “Mr. Wafer cannot be convicted and sentenced for two homicides in the death of one person” because it constitutes double jeopardy, which violates both state law and the U.S. Constitution.

“Manslaughter must be set aside, and the case remanded for resentencing on second-degree murder,” McCann wrote.

The court ordered oral arguments on “whether to grant the application or take other action,” which refers to the Wafer’s bid to appeal the judgment of the Court of Appeals and be granted a new trial.

The Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office argued that under case law “two convictions arising out of the same incident do not violate double jeopardy if each crime has one element the other does not.”

Prosecutors and the teen’s relatives believe 19-year-old Renisha McBride of Detroit was seeking help after a single-car accident less than a mile away from Wafer’s home as she banged on his front door in the early morning of Nov. 2, 2013.

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

Wafer wanted jurors to be told during jury instructions of his fear and belief that he faced great bodily harm. Jury instructions were given only on self-defense, not on breaking and entering.

The Prosecutor’s Office in its briefs wrote “there was no evidence that the victim — who, at most, was banging on defendant’s side and front doors was actually ... in the process of breaking into defendant’s home.”

But McCann argued that “Mr. Wafer is entitled to a new trial as the general self-defense instruction did not adequately present his theory of defense, and it did not given him the full protection that the Legislature intended for a homeowner.”

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

McBride’s aunt, Bernita Spinks, scoffed at the possibility that Wafer could appeal his sentence.

“How is that going to happen? This man hasn’t done half of his sentence,” Spinks said Wednesday. “I will definitely fight that. You got Kwame Kilpatrick, who hasn’t killed anybody and he can’t get an appeal. I’m going to let God do what he does. God sees everything. Ted Wafer knows what happened. Only two people know what happened — that’s Ted Wafer and Renisha, and she’s dead.”

Wafer took the stand during his trial, 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.”

In April, the Michigan Court of Appeals ruled that Wafer should get a new hearing on his sentence. But the court also ruled that the trial court “did not abuse its discretion when it determined that the evidence did not support the assertion that McBride was actually in the process of breaking and entering when the shooting occurred.”

A three-judge panel ruled Wayne Circuit Judge Dana Hathaway erred during her sentencing of Wafer in August 2014. No decision or new hearing date has been scheduled.

But Wafer’s conviction on second-degree murder, manslaughter and the use of a firearm in the commission of a felony was upheld.

“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 April opinion by judges Cynthia Stephens, Joel Hoekstra and Deborah Servitto.

The appellate judges also rejected Wafer’s appeal of his argument claiming double jeopardy.