Charges Filed in Michigan Porch Shooting

Authorities charged a 54-year-old suburban Detroit man with second-degree murder after he allegedly shot 19-year-old Renisha McBride in the face

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Joshua Lott / Reuters

Mourners hold roses after attending the funeral service for 19-year-old shooting victim Renisha McBride in Detroit, Michigan November 8, 2013.

The grief-stricken family of Renisha McBride was not asking for contrition. They were asking for justice.  “I couldn’t accept an apology, because my daughter don’t breathe no more,” her father, Walter Ray Simmons, said Friday. The family lawyer described what happened to her as a “disregard for human life.” The Wayne County prosecutor called it second-degree murder.

A Michigan man was charged Friday in the shooting of the unarmed 19-year-old black woman, whose death on Nov. 2  stoked racial tensions in suburban Detroit and drew comparisons to the infamous 2012 Trayvon Martin killing.

Theodore Paul Wafer, 54, allegedly shot McBride in the face through his front door in the early hours of the morning, after she crashed her car nearby.

Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy said Friday morning in a press conference there is no evidence the suspect acted in lawful self-defense, and he will be charged with second-degree murder and manslaughter. At Wafler’s arraignment, a judge set $250,000 bond, and ordered him back in court on December 18.

“There is no duty to retreat when you’re in your own house, but someone who claims self-defense must have an honest and reasonable belief of imminent death or imminent rape or bodily harm,” Worthy said.

The case has drawn widespread attention for what civil rights activists see as similarities to the cases of Trayvon Martin, the unarmed black teenager killed last year in Florida, and Jonathan Ferrell, an unarmed black man who was shot by North Carolina police in September after seeking help following a car accident. Martin’s killer, George Zimmerman, was acquitted on self-defense grounds; the officer who shot Ferrell has been charged with voluntary manslaughter.

Theodore Paul Wafer

Dearborn Heights Police Dept.

Theodore Paul Wafer

McBride’s case has also become yet another battleground over so-called “Stand Your Ground” laws, which allow the use of lethal force against a serious threat, even when escape is an option. Michigan, like at least 21 other states, extends this right to almost anywhere, while many other states restrict it only to the defense of one’s home.

Police believe Renisha McBride crashed her car on Nov. 2 in Dearborn Heights, a suburb west of of Detroit, before appearing “bloody and confused” at Wafer’s door around 4:30 a.m. She was unarmed, there was no sign of forced entry and the two did not apparently know each other, authorities said. According to Worthy, Wafer opened the interior door but shot McBride through a closed screen door. Police found McBride with a “very large gunshot wound to her face.”

Addressing Wafer at a press conference, Renisha’s mother, Monica McBride, said, “You took a life and you took a beautiful life that was starting to blossom into a beautiful woman.”

Worthy declined to comment on reports that McBride had asked for help at another house before Wafer’s. Police scanner audio obtained by the Detroit News suggests that Wafer called 911 immediately after the shooting. Worthy said she believes Wafer was in lawful possession of his firearm.

Worthy said that the case is not about the fact that an unarmed black woman was shot by a white man. “The charging decision has nothing to do with the race of the parties,” Worthy said. When asked about the comparison with the Trayvon Martin case, Worthy said she has been focused on the 40 other homicides her office is currently investigating.

“The day that a prosecutor’s office makes their decisions on public opinions is the day that that prosecutors office is shut down,” she said.

A toxicology report found that McBride had a blood alcohol content of .218 at the time of her death, which is more than twice the legal limit for driving. For drivers under 21, the legal limit in Michigan is 0.02. Mary Mazur of the Wayne County Examiner’s Office said McBride also had a very small amount of marijuana in her system, but “it’s not even clear that she used it that day.” Wafer did not have a toxicology test.

Worthy said that McBride’s inebriation had no bearing on the case.

Gerald Thurswell, an attorney representing the McBride family, said the suspect should have called 911 instead of shooting McBride. “There was no evidence, no evidence at all, that she made any attempt to break into his house,” he said. “The best he could say is that she was loud, she was boisterous, she was noisy, that doesn’t give anybody the right to blow off someone’s head.”

Thurswell added that McBride’s toxicology report shows that she would have been even less of a threat to the suspect. “We don’t blow off people’s heads because they’re intoxicated,” he said. “Look how many people would be dead on New Years Eve.”

“It would be our hope, so that the family has closure, that he pleads guilty,” Thurswell said. “As long as this case is pending the family is not going to have closure until he pleads guilty or is found guilty.”

Wafer’s attorney could not immediately be reached for comment.