Man guilty of murdering woman at his front door

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DETROIT — No one disputed that in the early-morning hours of Nov. 2, Renisha McBride, 19, stood on the front porch of a bungalow in suburban Dearborn Heights. She pounded at the door with her hands, moving to the side of the house and back to the front.

Minutes later, the homeowner, a 55-year-old airport maintenance worker named Theodore P. Wafer, who had been roused from his sleep, opened the inside front door, fired a single shotgun blast and killed her.

On Thursday, after fewer than two days of deliberation, a Detroit jury decided that it was murder.

The case has stirred racial tensions in Detroit — Ms. McBride was black, and Mr. Wafer is white — and drawn comparisons to the case of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin, who was fatally shot by a neighborhood watch volunteer, George Zimmerman, in 2012. But where Mr. Zimmerman successfully invoked self-defense, Mr. Wafer failed.

Mr. Wafer was found guilty of second-degree murder, involuntary manslaughter and a felony weapons charge. He could face life in prison.

In a cramped Detroit courtroom, several family members of Ms. McBride wept when they heard the verdict; others gasped. The defendant stood and stared straight ahead.

Mr. Wafer, who lived alone, claimed self-defense in the shooting, testifying from the witness stand that he was asleep in his living-room recliner about 4:30 a.m. when he was jolted awake by violent pounding on his doors. He was terrified, he said, and within minutes scrambled for his shotgun stashed in a closet, believing that someone was attempting to break into his home in Dearborn Heights, just across the city line from Detroit.

“I was upset,” he told the courtroom Tuesday, speaking in a soft, even voice. “I had a lot of emotions. I was scared. I had fear. I was panicking.”

His lawyer, Cheryl Carpenter, reminded the jury that Mr. Wafer stayed inside his house during the shooting and was hardly looking for trouble that night. “Is this fun for you?” she asked him.

“No,” he said, “it’s a nightmare.”

Prosecutors countered that Mr. Wafer had taken the law into his own hands, failing to call police and then shooting the unarmed Ms. McBride without warning.

Her family, who watched the courtroom proceedings with grim faces and frequent tears, said they believed that Ms. McBride must have been lost, confused and seeking help after being hurt in a car crash several blocks away. After the verdict Thursday, Monica McBride, Renisha McBride’s mother, said she was astonished and relieved. She had been hurt, she said, by what she saw as attempts by the defense to sully her daughter’s reputation.

“We know who she was,” Ms. McBride said. “She was a regular teenager. She wasn’t violent. Her life mattered.”

Walter Simmons, Renisha McBride’s father, said he did not believe that race was a factor in her death. “I think he was mad and was ready for whomever came to his door,” he said of Mr. Wafer.

The jurors declined to speak to reporters after the verdict was announced Thursday afternoon. Mr. Wafer, who is to be sentenced Aug. 25, faces as much as life in prison.

During a two-week trial, jurors heard from 27 witnesses, including Mr. Wafer, who described the events on the night Ms. McBride was killed. A friend of Ms. McBride’s testified that earlier in the evening, the two drank vodka and smoked marijuana. Just before 1 a.m., Ms. McBride hit a parked car within the Detroit city limits, left the scene of the accident and rejected help from neighbors, witnesses said. One witness said Ms. McBride, who appeared disoriented and was bleeding from her injuries, brushed off a neighbor’s plea to wait for an ambulance.

Her whereabouts for the next several hours remain a mystery. But sometime around 4:30 a.m., she approached Mr. Wafer’s home, a small house on a corner lot. He testified that he was asleep in his living room when he heard loud pounding on the front door, then on the side door.

Mr. Wafer, who has no landline, said he frantically searched for his cell phone, but could not find it.

As the banging continued, he said, he went to a closet and retrieved his Mossberg 12-gauge shotgun, which he had loaded less than two weeks earlier after vandals had paint-balled his vehicle.

michigan - Detroit - United States - North America - George Zimmerman - Trayvon Martin


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