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State Supreme Court denies new trial in porch shooting

Oralandar Brand-Williams
The Detroit News

The Dearborn Heights man who shot and killed a Detroit teen on his porch more than four years ago was denied a new trial Friday by the Michigan Supreme Court.

Theodore Wafer, 59, was convicted in 2014 in the homicide of Renisha McBride nearly a year earlier.

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 shooting death of 19-year-old Renisha McBride. Wafer also received a mandatory two-year consecutive sentence on a felony firearm charge.

Prosecutors and the family of McBride said she was seeking assistance on Wafer’s porch in the early morning of Nov. 2, 2013. They say they believe McBride was disoriented after a single-car accident less than a mile away from Wafer’s home, on West Outer Drive and Dolphin near Warren Avenue, when she banged on his front door.

Wafer’s trial attorney said he was in fear of his life and thought McBride, who was intoxicated, was an intruder trying to break into Wafer’s home when he shot the teen in the face through a screen door at his home.

Maria Miller, a spokeswoman for the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office, said Friday: “Today the Michigan Supreme Court denied Defendant Wafer’s application for leave to appeal citing that they were not persuaded that the questions presented should be reviewed by the Court. The Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office is pleased that the Michigan Supreme Court has ruled that Defendant Wafer’s convictions will stand.”

Lawyers for Wafer sought to have his conviction overturned, saying his legal rights were violated when the jury that convicted him was given faulty instructions.

McBride’s aunt, Belinda Spinks, expressed happiness over the court’s decision, saying she “knew” he was not going to succeed in getting a new trial.

“He’s going to be denied everything,” Spinks said Friday. “God knows what happened. God, Renisha and Ted Wafer knew what happened. He killed (Renisha) for no reason. He will serve 17 years if he doesn’t serve the (entire) 30 years. I’m very happy. I’m very satisfied.”

Chief Justice Stephen Markman dissented from the court’s decision, saying Wafer’s conviction “warrants reversal.”

“Defendant was deprived of the legal presumption to which he was entitled by statute, that he acted in self-defense out of an honest and reasonable belief of imminent death or great bodily harm when the deceased apparently tried to break down the doors of his home in the middle of the night. Had the jury presumed that he possessed such a belief, it would have been far more likely to find that the prosecutor did not disprove self defense beyond a reasonable doubt.”

The chief justice added, “It is altogether tragic that Renisha McBride lost her life. However, I do not believe that defendant is properly held responsible, or that he would have been held responsible, but for the trial court’s failure to properly instruct the jury concerning the full gravity of the situation faced by defendant.”

Michigan Supreme Court Justice Elizabeth Clement diod not participate in the ruling because the case was before the state’s high court before she joined the bench.

Wafer’s attorney wanted the jury to be given instructions that Wafer feared that McBride was breaking into his home and that he believed that he faced great bodily harm or death. Jury instructions were given only on self-defense, not on breaking and entering.

The prosecutor’s office in its briefs argued “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.”

In her briefs to the Michigan Supreme Court, Wafer’s appellate attorney, Jacqueline 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 give him the full protection that the Legislature intended for a homeowner.”

Wafer testified during his trial, saying he thinks about the shooting of McBride often.

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

The Michigan Court of Appeals ruled that Wafer should get new proceedings 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. But Wafer’s conviction on second-degree murder, manslaughter and the use of a firearm in the commission of a felony was upheld.

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