Michigan high court tosses manslaughter conviction in porch shooting case, orders resentencing

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

The Michigan Supreme Court has vacated the manslaughter conviction and ordered resentencing for a Dearborn Heights man charged in the 2013 death of a woman who knocked on his front door.

In an opinion released Wednesday, the court unanimously ruled that Theodore Wafer should not have been punished for both second-degree murder and statutory involuntary manslaughter, finding that the Double Jeopardy Clause prohibits multiple punishments for the same homicide.

"We are aware of no cases in this state in which defendants were convicted of and received punishments for both second-degree murder and statutory involuntary manslaughter on the basis of a single killing," wrote Justice David Viviano. 

Theodore Wafer.

Wafer is serving concurrent sentences of 15-30 years for the murder charge and 7-15 years for manslaughter. He also received a mandatory additional two years on a felony firearm charge.

The former maintenance worker at Detroit Metro Airport was convicted in 2014 in the fatal shooting of 19-year-old Renisha McBride. Wafer's trial attorney argued he feared for his life and thought McBride, who was intoxicated, had been trying to break in early on Nov. 2, 2013.

Renisha McBride

Prosecutors and her family said she sought help at his porch and had been disoriented after a single-car accident less than a mile away. Wafer shot the woman in the face through a screen door.

In 2018, Wafer's lawyers sought to have his conviction overturned, saying his legal rights were violated when the jury was given faulty instructions. The

Michigan Supreme Court denied the request.

The court agreed to hear arguments last year about whether it was improper for Wafer to be convicted of murder and manslaughter for the same death.

In briefs filed ahead of those arguments, his attorney, Jacqueline McCann of the State Appellate Defender Office, wrote that Wafer's manslaughter conviction contradicted the murder one since that requires malice.

During a hearing, prosecutors said the conviction was not a double jeopardy case.

Theodore Wafer is led out of the courtroom after being sentenced on Sept. 3, 2014.

“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," Assistant Wayne County Prosecutor Amanda Smith told the justices.

In its opinion Wednesday, the state Supreme Court disagreed, citing state law.

"The issue presented in this case is whether the Double Jeopardy Clause prohibits these multiple punishments for the same homicide," Viviano wrote. "We find the answer to this question in the statutory text establishing these crimes.

"To be guilty of second-degree murder ... an individual must have acted with malice. By contrast, the Legislature crafted the involuntary manslaughter statute to encompass certain conduct that occurred 'without malice,' " the opinion said.

"...By including this language, the Legislature provided a clear indication that it sought to prevent an individual from receiving punishments for both of these offenses in relation to a single homicide. Accordingly, we reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals, which reached the opposite conclusion, and remand this case to the trial court for further proceedings."

In a statement Wednesday night, Jessica Zimbelman, managing attorney

at the State Appellate Defender Office, said the court "correctly recognized that the Legislature did not intend for a person to be punished twice for the same conduct."

She added that Wafer’s second-degree murder conviction remains in place.

"The practical effect of the Court’s ruling means that Mr. Wafer will be resentenced as his legislative sentencing guidelines range will change after the Court’s decision," Zimbelman wrote. "Resentencing will likely happen within a matter of months."

Assistant Wayne County Prosecutor Maria Miller, spokeswoman for Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy, said Thursday that "Ted Wafer was sentenced to 15 to 30 years for Second Degree Murder. Prosecutor Worthy believes the same 15 to 30 year sentence is appropriate and what we will argue for at the re-sentencing hearing.”