DETROIT — A jury convicted a suburban Detroit homeowner of second-degree murder and manslaughter Thursday in the killing of an unarmed woman on his porch last year, rejecting his claim that he was afraid for his life when he heard the woman pounding on his door in the middle of the night and had acted in self-defense.
Theodore Wafer, 55, shot Renisha McBride through a screen door on Nov. 2, hours after she crashed into a parked car a half-mile from his house. No one knows why she ended up at the Dearborn Heights home, although prosecutors speculated that the 19-year-old woman may have been seeking help.
The jury convicted Wafer of second-degree murder, manslaughter and a gun-related charge after deliberating for about eight hours over two days.
Wayne County Judge Dana Hathaway warned that she would lock people up for any outbursts, and the courtroom was silent after the verdict was read.
McBride's mother, Monica McBride, cried and clasped her hands as if praying when the jury's decision was announced. She gave long hugs to prosecutors as the courtroom emptied.
Wafer, who had been free on bond, was ordered to jail to await his Aug. 21 sentencing, despite the vigorous objections of his attorney, Cheryl Carpenter. He faces up to life in prison, but it's likely his punishment will be shorter.
"We learned he was a cold-blooded killer," McBride's father, Walter Simmons, told reporters.
"People have a right to bear their arms and everything else, but you have to do it with reason and responsibility," Simmons said. "Not just murder somebody when it's not justified."
Jurors declined to comment after the hearing, and Carpenter couldn't immediately be reached for reaction.
During closing arguments, prosecutor Patrick Muscat said McBride "just wanted to go home" the morning she was killed.
"She ended up in the morgue with bullets in her head and in her brain because the defendant picked up this shotgun, released this safety, raised it at her, pulled the trigger and blew her face off," Muscat told jurors, holding the gun.
Wafer, an airport maintenance employee who lives alone, said he was roused out of sleep around 4:30 a.m. by pounding at his front and side doors. He testified that the noises were "unbelievable."
"I wasn't going to cower in my house," Wafer said.
He said he thought there could have been more than one person outside of his 1,100-square-foot home near the Detroit-Dearborn Heights border. Wafer said he pulled the trigger "to defend myself. It was them or me."
"He armed himself. He was getting attacked," Carpenter told jurors. "Put yourselves in his shoes at 4:30 in the morning."
But prosecutors said Wafer could have stayed safely in his locked home and called 911 instead of confronting McBride.
"He had so many other options. ... We wouldn't be here if he had called police first," Muscat told the jury.
Wafer is white and McBride was black, and some wondered in the aftermath of the shooting whether race may have been a factor, likening it to the shooting of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin. But the race angle faded over time and was hardly mentioned at all at the trial.