A judge ruled that the man who is accused of killing an unarmed Detroit teen on his front porch has been ordered to stand trial.
Judge David Turfe, of the 20th District Court in Dearborn Heights, Mich., bound Theodore Paul Wafer over to trial after an initial hearing that lasted all of Wednesday and stretched into Thursday morning. Wafer, 54, is charged with second-degree murder, manslaughter and a related felony firearm charge in the death of 19-year-old Renisha McBride.
"This court recognizes we can't automatically penalize one for making a bad decision when pressed to react quickly," Turfe said. "But at the same time, we can't allow one to use the bad decision as a shield to criminal prosecution. The defendant came to the door with a shotgun. His first thought was to bring the gun, not call for help or not answer the door."
Renisha McBride was killed Nov. 2 in Dearborn Heights after 4 a.m. Around 1 a.m., she crashed into a parked car in Detroit a half-mile away. A witness who spoke to McBride after her accident said she seemed "discombobulated" and didn't know where she was, but kept saying she wanted to go home. The bystander, Carmen Beasley, said when she went into her house to call 911 for a second time, McBride walked away.
It's unclear what McBride did after she left the scene of the accident. Less than four hours later, she was shot on Wafer's porch with a shotgun through a locked screen door.
During the hearing, the prosecution played the 911 call in which Wafer said he just shot a woman on his front porch. The medical examiner who performed McBride's autopsy testified that the shotgun shot to her face would have killed her instantly.
"There is no question that it is the defendant is this case that caused the death of Renisha McBride," Assistant Wayne County Prosecutor Danielle Hagaman-Clark said.
Cheryl Carpenter, attorney for Wafer, argued that the prosecution had not presented enough evidence to show the intent necessary for the second-degree murder charge and that her client was in fear of someone breaking into his home. She said Wafer should not be bound over for trial on the manslaughter charge either, as Michigan's self-defense law gives homeowners in fear of great bodily harm or death the right to use deadly force.
"Everyone is looking at this case from McBride's eyes. ... We have to look through the eyes of the homeowner," Carpenter said.
She portrayed McBride as "not in her right mind" after the car accident that left her confused and injured, and referenced her alcohol consumption -- she had a blood-alcohol content more than double the legal limit when she died, but it was likely higher earlier in the night, the medical examiner said.
Two friends of McBride's were called to the stand by the defense. McBride's best friend said they had been drinking earlier in the evening and smoked two or three blunts filled with marijuana. The young women had ended the evening in one of their first fights, though it had not escalated to calling each other names or physical confrontation. Another friend of McBride was worried someone had slipped something in her drink because of the way she sounded on the phone.
There was little argument that McBride was drunk and in a confused state. But Hagaman-Clark seemed to dismiss her condition as a rationale for Wafer's alleged fear.
"There's been no testimony that there was fear" or that it was reasonable, Hagaman-Clark said. She posed a question to the judge: If Wafer was scared, why did he open the door?
Turfe said the testimony from both sides showed that McBride was not a combative person.
Witnesses called by the prosecution and defense also included two bystanders after her car accident, the 911 dispatcher who took Wafer's call, a Dearborn Heights detective, the medical examiner who performed McBride's autopsy, an expert in firearms who works for the Michigan State Police and another firearms and crime scene reconstruction expert retained by the defense.
Wafer faces a maximum possible sentence of life in prison for the second-degree murder charge and 15 years for manslaughter, as well as an additional two years for the felony gun charge.
Protesters and civil rights activists like the Rev. Al Sharpton have called for justice for McBride, a 2012 graduate of Southfield High School and former cheerleader who had recently gotten a job at Ford. The shooting of an unarmed, young African-American has caused some to compare her to Trayvon Martin, an unarmed Florida teen who was shot by neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman last year. Zimmerman was found not guilty.
McBride's parents' lawyer publicly dismissed the idea that the shooting was racially motivated. During the hearing, her family sat quietly watching the court proceedings.
"I believe this man took my daughter's life for no reason," said her father, Walter Ray Simmons, at a press conference after Wafer was charged last month. "We just want justice done."
Wafer's next hearing date is Jan. 15.
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