Homeowner charged with woman's shooting death, claims self-defense

Case stirs racial tensions in Detroit, drawing parallels to Trayvon Martin

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DETROIT -- A suburban Detroit homeowner was formally charged Friday with second-degree murder and manslaughter in the death of Renisha Marie McBride, a 19-year-old woman who was shot in the face with a shotgun as she stood on the man's porch in the middle of the night nearly two weeks ago.

The defendant, Theodore Paul Wafer, 54, was also charged with possession of a firearm during commission of a felony at his arraignment Friday afternoon. His lawyers waived a reading of his charges. One of his lawyers, Mack L. Carpenter, pledged to mount "a strong defense."

The Dearborn Heights shooting almost two weeks ago has stirred racial tensions both in Detroit, a mostly black city, and in its whiter suburbs, including Dearborn Heights, which sits just across the city line.

Much remains unclear about what happened in the early morning hours of Nov. 2, when Ms. McBride, who was black, crashed her car and hours later ended up on the doorstep of Mr. Wafer, who is white. Ms. McBride's relatives have said they believe that she had come to Mr. Wafer's house seeking help. He has told police that he believed that she had been trying to break in.

Although the case has been compared to the shooting of Trayvon Martin, the unarmed black teenager killed last year in Florida, Wayne County prosecutor Kym L. Worthy said at a news conference Friday that "race is not relevant."

Ms. Worthy said Ms. McBride had knocked on the exterior screen door of Mr. Wafer's Dearborn Heights home around 4:30 a.m. Nov. 2. She had been in a car accident about three hours earlier, and tests have subsequently shown that she was legally intoxicated.

Witnesses said that, after the car accident, Ms. McBride appeared to be disoriented and walked off into the darkness before returning, then walking away again. Neighbors said they had called 911, but by the time police and an ambulance arrived, Ms. McBride was gone.

The prosecutor said there was no sign that Ms. McBride had sought to gain entry to Mr. Wafer's house, but that he had opened the front door and fired a shot through a locked screen door that struck her in the face. Ms. McBride was not armed.

"We do not believe he acted in lawful self-defense," said Ms. Worthy, adding that prosecutors had decided to charge Mr. Wafer "based on the facts and the evidence."

Michigan's "self-defense" act states that a person may use deadly force if "the individual honestly and reasonably believes that the use of deadly force is necessary to prevent the imminent death of or imminent great bodily harm to himself or herself or to another individual."

Mr. Wafer's next court appearance is scheduled for Dec. 18.

Civil rights activists said the shooting in Detroit recalled the cases of Martin and of Jonathan Ferrell, a black man shot to death by a police officer in Charlotte, N.C., in September, when he sought help after a car accident.



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