DETROIT (AP) — A suburban Detroit man said Monday that he was afraid when an unknown woman showed up on his porch before dawn one morning last year, but that he refused to be a victim in his own home.
“I wasn’t going to cower in my house,” Theodore Wafer told jurors at his trial for the Nov. 2 killing of 19-year-old Renisha McBride, who was drunk but unarmed.
Wafer is charged with second-degree murder and could be sentenced to up to life in prison with the chance for parole, if he’s convicted. He says he shot McBride in self-defense, but prosecutors argue that Wafer could have stayed safely behind his locked doors and called 911 instead of confronting McBride, whom he didn’t know.
Softly and methodically, Wafer told the Wayne County Circuit Court jury how he followed loud bangs from his front door to his side door and back to the front again before fetching his 12-gauge shotgun.
He said he opened the front door slightly and saw that the outer, screen door was damaged. He then opened the inner door further and “this person came out from the side of my house so fast. I raised the gun and shot,” he told jurors after taking the stand on the seventh day of testimony.
Wafer, 55, also said he thought there could have been more than one person outside of his 1,100-square-foot home near Detroit’s far west side. He said he pulled the trigger “to defend myself. It was them or me.”
When police arrived, McBride lay in a pool of blood just off the porch.
In the immediate aftermath of the shooting, civil rights activists questioned whether race may have been a factor. Wafer is white and McBride was black, and some likened the killing to that of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin. But race faded as an issue and wasn’t mentioned as a factor by prosecutors or defense attorneys during court hearings that preceded the trial.
Earlier in the trial, prosecutors played a recording of Wafer telling an officer that he didn’t know the gun was loaded. They contend that Wafer didn’t need to use deadly force against McBride
An autopsy found McBride’s blood-alcohol level was about 0.22, which is nearly three times Michigan’s legal limit for driving. About 3½ hours before Wafer killed her, McBride crashed her car into a parked vehicle on a Detroit street about half away.
To acquit Wafer, the jury would have to find that he shot McBride because he had a reasonable and honest fear for his life.
Occasionally rubbing the right side of his head and speaking with his eyes closed, Wafer testified that he bought the shotgun about six years ago.
Wafer’s lawyer, Cheryl Carpenter, asked if he had a security system installed at his home. He said no.
“I think everybody would like to have a security system in their house,” he said. “I couldn’t afford it.”
The neighborhood had changed greatly since he bought the house in 1994, added Wafer, who appeared Monday to be fixated on his personal safety.
“My front door and screen door are usually always locked,” said Wafer, adding that the same goes for his back door. He said he uses the side door most often to get in and out and that the screen door on the side of his house is usually not locked.
Earlier Monday, a firearms expert testified for the defense that Wafer and McBride were both apparently standing close to his screen door when he shot her through it, killing her.
Retired state Trooper David Balash said the hole in the door made by the shotgun blast shows it was near the door when he fired it. He said the buckshot wounds on McBride’s body show she was standing near the door when Wafer shot her last fall.
“My opinion is she was very close to the door … within a foot,” Balash told the jury.
It is not clear how or why she showed up on Wafer’s porch. They didn’t know each other.
Dr. Werner Spitz, a former medical examiner, testified last week that a laceration on McBride’s hand shows she may have injured it while pounding on Wafer’s door. But the doctor who performed the autopsy found nothing remarkable about her hand.