A defense attorney for Theodore Wafer, the white man recently convicted of killing an unarmed young black woman on his suburban Detroit porch, says "the ghost of Trayvon Martin" affected the trial.
Cheryl Carpenter also denied racial profiling was a factor in the killing, for which she represented Wafer, 55, in a Detroit circuit court. In August, Wafer was convicted of second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter in the death of 19-year-old Renisha McBride, who showed up on Wafer's porch after crashing her car in the early hours of Nov. 2, 2013.
Wafer shot McBride in the head with a shotgun through his locked screen door after she banged on the doors and windows of his house, severely intoxicated. His attorneys described the shooting as self-defense motivated by fear, while the prosecution portrayed McBride as a helpless woman in need of assistance.
The case received national scrutiny as some questioned the role of race in the shooting; McBride was often linked to Trayvon Martin, the unarmed black 17-year-old who was shot to death in Florida by self-appointed neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman, and whose death became a rallying point for activists.
Both sides kept race issues out of Wafer's trial, but in an exclusive with the Detroit News this week, Carpenter reflected on how Zimmerman, who was found not guilty in Martin's death and has since had several run-ins with the law, may have affected the outcome for her client. She seemed to imply that Wafer's conviction was in part due to Zimmerman's acquittal:
"The pressure was different than any other case I'd ever had," she said. "We had the ghost of Trayvon Martin in the courtroom."
In one breath, she insisted, "This case was not racial. I can say, with 100 percent confidence, that Ted did not know who was on his front porch when he saw a figure coming at him." In the next, she said: "It didn't help that after (George) Zimmerman was acquitted, he acted like an assaultive creep and they thought, probably, we can't led Ted go free and maybe murder another woman."
Carpenter, who argued passionately for Wafer's innocence throughout his trial, told the Detroit News that she feels like it's her "calling" to help "the ones who are the most powerless, the ones who are the most hated and the ones who are the most prejudged."
She broke down in tears in the courtroom last month when Wafer was sentenced to 17 years in prison, arguing that Wafer "shows more remorse than any client I have ever seen."
In a personal blog post Oct. 8, Carpenter announced she has taken a sabbatical from trial law to spend more time with her kids and because her "job was killing [her] spirit."
Wafer has since begun the process of appealing his murder conviction with the help of a public defender.
Read the full interview with Carpenter in the Detroit News.