The Michigan Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments Thursday on whether to grant a new trial for a Dearborn Heights homeowner convicted of fatally shooting an African-American woman on his porch more than three years ago.
Theodore Wafer, a 58-year-old former airport maintenance worker at Detroit Metro Airport, is serving a 15-30 year sentence for murder and 7-15 years for manslaughter in the Alger Correctional Facility in Munising in the Upper Peninsula in the shooting death of 19-year-old Renisha McBride. Wafer also received a mandatory two-year consecutive sentence on a felony firearm charge.
Wafer is not expected to attend the hearing. Wafer’s attorney and the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office will be given 15 minutes each to present their arguments.
Wafer’s attorney is asking the justices for a new trial, arguing that jurors in the 2014 trial did not get specialized instructions that Wafer believed McBride was trying to break into his home and was going to harm or kill him when he shot her.
Prosecutors and the woman’s relatives believe McBride was disoriented and seeking help after a single-car accident less than a mile away from Wafer’s home, on West Outer Drive and Dolphin near Warren Avenue, when she banged on his front door in the early morning of Nov. 2, 2013.
McBride’s aunt Bernita Spinks said Thursday her niece’s killer should not be considered for a new trial.
“(Renisha) was not trying to break into his house,” said Spinks. “He opened up a locked door and blew her brains out. Why didn’t he call 911? He killed her.”
Spinks said “God is going to work it out” and that Wafer doesn’t have a good argument for a new trial.
McBride’s family received an undisclosed financial settlement in the death.
Wafer’s trial attorney said he feared for his life and thought McBride, who was intoxicated, was an intruder trying to break into his home when he shot her in the face through a screen door at his home.
Wafer’s attorney wanted the jury to be told during instructions of his fear that McBride was breaking into his home and that he believed that he faced great bodily harm. or death. Jury instructions were given only on self-defense, not on breaking and entering.
The prosecutor’s office in its briefs argued “there was no evidence that the victim — who, at most, was banging on defendant’s side and front doors was actually ... in the process of breaking into defendant’s home.”
In her briefs to the Michigan Supreme Court, Wafer’s appellate attorney, Jacqueline McCann, argues that “Mr. Wafer is entitled to a new trial as the general self-defense instruction did not adequately present his theory of defense, and it did not give him the full protection that the Legislature intended for a homeowner.”
Wafer testified during his trial, saying he thinks about the shooting of McBride often.
“So devastating,” Wafer said on the witness stand. “This poor girl. She had her whole life in front of her. I took that from her. I only wish that I could take this horrible tragedy back.”
The Michigan Court of Appeals ruled that Wafer should get new proceedings on his sentence. But the court also ruled that the trial court “did not abuse its discretion when it determined that the evidence did not support the assertion that McBride was actually in the process of breaking and entering when the shooting occurred.”
A three-judge panel ruled Wayne Circuit Judge Dana Hathaway erred during her sentencing of Wafer in August 2014. But Wafer’s conviction on second-degree murder, manslaughter and the use of a firearm in the commission of a felony was upheld.