DETROIT – A jury convicted a man of second-degree murder and manslaughter on Thursday after he shot an unarmed young woman in the face on his porch last year after she pounded on his door. It rejected his claim that he was afraid for his life and had acted in self-defence.
The case once again raised national issues of race and the use of guns in self-defence. Theodore Wafer is white and Renisha McBride was black, and some wondered at first whether race may have been a factor, but that angle was hardly mentioned at the trial.
Wafer shot McBride through a screen door on Nov. 2, hours after she crashed into a parked car near his house. No one knows why she ended up at the home, although prosecutors speculated that the 19-year-old may have been seeking help. An autopsy found she was extremely drunk.
“She just wanted to go home,” prosecutor Patrick Muscat said during closing arguments, holding the shotgun Wafer used to kill McBride. “She ended up in the morgue with bullets in her head and in her brain because the defendant picked up this shotgun, released this safety, raised it at her, pulled the trigger and blew her face off.”
Wafer, 55, who had been free on bond, was also convicted on a gun-related charge and was ordered to jail to await his sentence. He could face up to life in prison with the possibility of parole, but it is likely his sentence will be much shorter.
“He was a cold-blooded killer. … People have a right to bear arms, but you need to do it with reason and responsibility,” McBride’s father, Walter Simmons, told reporters.
Wafer, who lives alone, said he was woken out of sleep around 4:30 a.m. by pounding at his front and side doors. He testified that the noises were “unbelievable.”
“I wasn’t going to cower in my house,” Wafer said.
He said he thought there could have been more than one person outside. Wafer said he pulled the trigger “to defend myself. It was them or me.”
“He armed himself. He was getting attacked,” defence attorney Cheryl Carpenter told jurors. “Put yourselves in his shoes at 4:30 in the morning.”
But prosecutors said Wafer could have stayed safely in his locked home and called police instead of confronting McBride.
“It’s about people with guns who don’t use the right judgment before they pick them up,” McBride’s aunt, Bernita Spinks, said outside the courthouse.
Carpenter couldn’t immediately be reached for reaction.
Other recent cases have raised questions about self-defence, especially the 2012 killing of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teen in Florida by a neighbourhood watch volunteer. George Zimmerman was acquitted last year after arguing self-defence.
And this year, a Montana man was accused of killing a 17-year-old German exchange student after setting a trap to find whoever was responsible for recent thefts at his home.
Beginning with Florida in 2005, at least 22 states have expanded the self-defence principle known as the “castle doctrine,” the premise that a person has the right to defend his or her home against attack.
The laws make it easier for a person to shoot someone and avoid prosecution by saying they felt an imminent danger.