2013 Dearborn Hts. porch shooting conviction weighed by Supreme Court

Oralandar Brand-Williams
The Detroit News

The conviction of a Dearborn Heights man on charges of second-degree murder and manslaughter does not constitute a violation of double jeopardy, an assistant Wayne County prosecutor told Michigan State Court justices Thursday.

Theodore Wafer, who was convicted in 2014 for the fatal shooting of 19-year-old Renisha McBride after she knocked on his door seeking help following a vehicle crash, has asked the court to do dismiss the manslaughter conviction and order that he be resentenced on the murder charge.

Attorney Jacqueline McCann of the State Appellate Defender Office argues before the Michigan Supreme Court on Thursday, Oct. 7, 2021. She represents Theodore Wafer, now 62, who was convicted of second-degree murder and manslaughter in 2014 for killing Renisha McBride,  19, of Detroit.

Wafer’s attorney, Jacqueline McCann of the State Appellate Defender Office, in briefs filed ahead of Thursday's arguments wrote that Wafer's manslaughter conviction contradicted the murder conviction because murder requires malice and manslaughter doesn't. Double jeopardy is the prosecution of a person twice for the same offense.

Wafer, now 62, is a former maintenance worker at Detroit Metro Airport. He is serving a 15- to 30-year sentence for the murder charge and seven to 15 years for manslaughter. Wafer also received a mandatory additional two years on a felony firearm charge.

Theodore Wafer testifies in his own defense during his trial for the murder of Renisha McBride on Aug. 4, 2014 in Detroit. His conviction in McBride's death will be reviewed by the Michigan Supreme Court Thursday for a second time.

“This is not a double jeopardy case,” Assistant Wayne County Prosecutor Amanda Smith told the justices Thursday. “He had a due process to have the people prove his guilt on each element and each charged crime and the people did so in this case.

"Mr. Wafer does not have the right to face fewer charges than would be sufficient to account for all, not merely some, of his criminal conduct. Nor does he have the right to avoid the punishment authorized by the legislation for any resulting conviction.”

Chief Justice Bridget McCormack asked Smith if the issue was a “due process problem and not a double jeopardy problem.”

Smith agreed, saying the question of double jeopardy is “irrelevant” in the case.

“I just don’t see how double jeopardy is the right framework (in arguments),” Smith told the justices. “We’re talking about due process that is fundamentally sustained. It’s all about what the legislature intended.”

Amanda Smith, Wayne County assistant prosecutor, argues before the Michigan Supreme Court on Thursday, Oct. 7, 2021. She argued against a request before the court to dismiss a manslaughter conviction against Theodore Wafer and order that he be resentenced for his second degree murder conviction. Wafer, now 62, who was convicted of both charges in 2014 for killing Renisha McBride,  19, of Detroit.

McCann pushed back, arguing the case was "all about statutory construction. They remain mutually exclusive offenses. It's not just the statutory language. Murder has a different element. You cannot commit an act with malice and without malice at the same time."

McCann asked the justices to "strike the manslaughter (conviction) and remand for resentencing."

Wafer’s trial attorney said he was in fear for his life and thought McBride, who was intoxicated, was an intruder trying to break into his home when he fatally shot her in the face through a screen door at his home in the early morning hours of Nov. 2, 2013. She went to Wafer's home following a single-car crash that occurred less than a mile from Wafer's home on West Outer Drive and Dolphin near Warren Avenue.

Thursday was the second time Wafer's conviction has been under review by the Michigan Supreme Court.

In 2018, Wafer's lawyers sought to have his conviction overturned, saying his legal rights were violated when the jury that convicted him was given faulty instructions. The Supreme Court denied the request.

Then-Chief Justice Stephen Markman dissented from the decision, writing that Wafer’s conviction “warrants reversal.”