© 2024 Ideastream Public Media

1375 Euclid Avenue, Cleveland, Ohio 44115
(216) 916-6100 | (877) 399-3307

WKSU is a public media service licensed to Kent State University and operated by Ideastream Public Media.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

In Detroit Porch Shooting Trial, It's Murder Vs. Self-Defense


In Detroit, the trial has begun for Theodore Wafer. He's a white suburban Detroit homeowner accused of second degree murder after shooting a black teenager on his porch. Here's Michigan Radio's Sarah Cwiek.

SARAH CWIEK, BYLINE: Wafer admits shooting and killing 19-year-old Renisha McBride in front of his Dearborn Heights home after McBride knocked on his door around 4 in the morning. Hours earlier, around midnight, McBride had crashed her car a couple of miles away in Detroit. Witnesses told police she stumbled away from the scene of the accident bloodied and disoriented. We don't know exactly how or why she ended up at Wafer's front door. She was apparently intoxicated, though. Autopsy results showed high levels of both alcohol and marijuana. Theodore Wafer claims he was startled awake by the pounding on his store. Confused and disoriented himself, he couldn't find his cell phones to call police. So he grabbed his shotgun. Defense attorney Cheryl Carpenter yesterday told jurors that McBride banged on the door so violently that it broke.

CHERYL CARPENTER: It's metal breaking - breaking on his front door. Ted is thinking they're coming in.

CWIEK: The prosecutors argue Wafer's actions don't meet the standard of self-defense defined by Michigan law. Prosecutor Danielle Hagaman-Clark says Wafer's screen door actually broke when he blasted McBride with his shotgun straight through it.

DANIELLE HAGAMAN-CLARK: The screen door that she was shot through was still locked at the time the police got there.

CWIEK: Some note that McBride's killing has some eerie similarities to the Trayvon Martin case - two unarmed black teenagers shot and killed by white men claiming self-defense. McBride's case sparked outrage last fall, especially since a Wafer - like George Zimmerman - wasn't immediately arrested and charged with a crime. As the trial carried on in a downtown Detroit courthouse, Otis Smart and Melissa Wright were chatting on a street in nearby Midtown.

MELISSA WRIGHT: That was murder, and that was wrong.

CWIEK: Smart says Wafer could have just not answered the door or found some other way to call for help. But instead, he chose to pick up a gun.

OTIS SMART: A shotgun through the front door - any weapon through the front door - a bow and arrow - a lady banging on the door - like, if she was a big old man, maybe - but no, I don't buy that.

WRIGHT: I don't by that at all.

CWIEK: Just down the street, Camille Chippewa isn't so sure. She agrees that the circumstances are strange, and with McBride dead, we only have Wafer's side of the story

CAMILLE CHIPPEWA: However, I think that there hasn't been enough reporting on the actual case itself. I think, from what I've heard, it focuses more on the racial tension rather than the actual facts of what happened when she was there.

CWIEK: But it does appear that many people here have already made up their minds. Either Theodore Wafer was a frightened homeowner who made a hasty, tragic mistake in the middle of the night or he's a killer who didn't think twice before he shot a confused, defenseless girl in the dark. For NPR News, I'm Sarah Cwiek in Detroit. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Sarah Cwiek