Theodore Wafer had killed a teenager, there was no doubt about that.
Renisha McBride, 19, had come onto his porch in the suburbs of Detroit on the morning of Nov. 2, disoriented after a car crash. Wafer met her with a blast from his shotgun.
Wafer, who is white, said he thought McBride, who was black, was going to break in. He argued he was acting in self-defense.
And in a Wayne County courtroom on Thursday, Wafer sat perfectly still as the jury disagreed. The forewoman announced that he was guilty of second-degree murder, manslaughter and a gun charge connected to McBride’s shooting.
“At that moment, I was shaking my head, because he’s where he needs to be,” McBride’s mother, Monica McBride, told reporters after the verdict. “Just sitting there with him — I didn’t have anger, I didn’t have a grudge. I wasn’t passing judgment, because that’s God’s job.
“I wanted justice,” she said, adding: “You did cold-blooded murder. That was murder. That was no accident; that was not self-defense. He did murder.”
The jury’s verdict came after almost two days of deliberations in a case in which racial overtones and the intricacies of self-defense law had drawn comparisons to Trayvon Martin’s 2012 killing in Florida.
In the Martin case, Neighborhood Watch volunteer George Zimmerman was acquitted of all charges for shooting the unarmed 17-year-old after a struggle. Legal phrases such as “stand your ground” and “duty to retreat” became essential to the debate over whether Zimmerman was not guilty of murder or manslaughter.
In Michigan, Wafer’s attorneys argued he was protected by state self-defense laws that say residents can use lethal force if they “honestly and reasonably believe” someone is breaking into their home.
Defense attorney Cheryl Carpenter told jurors that Wafer, 55, was asleep in his recliner about 4:40 a.m. in his Dearborn Heights home when he heard a “boom, boom, boom, boom” at his door. The banging was so severe, Carpenter said, that the “floor was shaking, the picture window was rattling.”
Wafer took the stand this week and testified that shooting McBride was a “total reflex reaction, defending myself. ... I wasn’t going to cower in my house; I didn’t want to be a victim.”
About three hours before she died, McBride had walked away from a car accident about half a mile from Wafer’s home. She had been drinking vodka and smoking marijuana before showing up at Wafer’s house, a friend testified at the trial. Prosecutors said she was seeking help.
“Ms. McBride, injured, disoriented, just wanted to go home,” prosecutor Patrick Muscat told jurors during closing arguments. Muscat then picked up the weapon Wafer used in the killing. “Yet she ended up in the morgue, with bullets in her head and her brain, because the defendant picked up this shotgun, released this safety, raised it at her, pulled the trigger and blew her face off.”
After the jury convicted Wafer, McBride’s father, Walter Simmons, downplayed the racial angle. He said Wafer may have been ready to shoot anybody after some teenagers had paintballed his car.
“He didn’t even know her,” Simmons said. “She was a beautiful young lady; she had things going for her. Yes, what teenager, which one of us here, have never took a drink and made a mistake as a teenager? We have; I have. But that doesn’t cost your life because you made a mistake.”
Wafer had been free on bond, but the judge ordered him jailed to await his Aug. 25 sentencing. He faces a possible life term.
When asked what sentence he thinks his daughter’s killer should get, Simmons didn’t hesitate.
“Life,” he said. Simmons paused for a couple of seconds, then repeated more softly: “Life.”
Times staff writer Michael Muskal contributed to this report.