Front-porch killing nets 17-year sentence

Defendant issues apology to family of Mich. victim


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DETROIT — The defendant stood facing the judge in Wayne County Circuit Court here Wednesday, speaking tremulously and in a low voice, and apologized to the family of Renisha McBride, the 19-year-old woman he shot and killed on the front porch of his suburban home last year.

“She was too young to leave this world, and for that I’ll carry guilt and sorrow forever,” said Theodore P. Wafer, a 55-year-old airport maintenance worker who fired a shotgun at Ms. McBride after she pounded on his front door in the middle of the night of Nov. 2.

Mr. Wafer’s lawyer, Cheryl Carpenter, wept while arguing for leniency. “This wasn’t planned,” she said. “He didn’t go out looking for this. It came to him.”

But Judge Dana Hathaway was unmoved. “I’m certain that you are remorseful, but none of that excuses what happened,” she said, calling Wafer an otherwise law-abiding citizen who had most likely acted out of anger and panic.

Judge Hathaway sentenced Wafer — who was convicted Aug. 7 of second-degree murder, involuntary manslaughter and a felony weapons charge — to a minimum of 17 years in prison, including a mandatory 2-year sentence on the weapons count.

The case initially stirred racial tension, because Wafer is white and Ms. McBride was black. But neither side raised the issue at trial.

Before sentencing, Jasmine McBride, the victim’s sister, addressed the court. “I believe Mr. Wafer needs time to think about his cowardly actions,” she said, as Wafer stared ahead. Afterward, she said she was satisfied. “I believe my sister can rest peacefully now,” she said.

The victim’s father, Walter Simmons, told the court that he lamented the loss of the opportunity “to see Renisha grow up, become a woman and have kids.”

The facts of the case were never in dispute: Early Nov. 2, Ms. McBride pounded on the front and side doors of Wafer’s bungalow. Minutes later, Wafer, who had been roused from his sleep, opened the inside front door, fired a shotgun blast through a locked screen door and killed her.

The question for jurors was whether Wafer had acted in self-defense. Michigan law allows lethal force only if a person “honestly and reasonably believes” that it is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm.

Wafer testified that he had been asleep in a recliner in his living room at 4:30 a.m. when he was jolted awake by the pounding on his doors. He was terrified, he said, and within minutes scrambled for his Mossberg 12-gauge shotgun stashed in a closet, which he had loaded less than two weeks earlier after vandals paint-balled his vehicle. He believed, he said, that someone was trying to break into his home in Dearborn Heights, just across the city line from Detroit.

“I was upset,” he told the courtroom. “I had a lot of emotions. I was scared. I had fear. I was panicking.”

But prosecutors asserted that Wafer had acted lawlessly, failing to call police and then shooting an unarmed woman without warning.

Wafer, who had no landline phone, testified that he frantically searched for his cellphone but could not find it.

He said he opened his front door and, seeing a “figure,” fired one shot through the screen door, killing Ms. McBride. Wafer then found his cellphone and called 911.

Ms. McBride arrived at Wafer’s front porch after a night that began with drinking and smoking marijuana, according to trial testimony. While driving just before 1 a.m., she hit a parked car within the Detroit city limits, left the scene of the crash 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.

michigan - Detroit - United States - North America


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