White Detroit-area man charged with murder of black woman

Reuters News
Posted: Nov 15, 2013 7:01 AM
White Detroit-area man charged with murder of black woman

By Joseph Lichterman

DETROIT (Reuters) - Prosecutors charged a white suburban Detroit homeowner with second-degree murder on Friday, after he killed a young black woman with a shotgun blast to the face when she knocked on his door in the middle of the night seeking help after a car crash.

The racially charged case has drawn comparisons to the 2012 shooting death of unarmed Florida teenager Trayvon Martin, triggering protests that have attracted national attention.

The previously unidentified suspect, airport employee Theodore Wafer, 54, also faces manslaughter and firearms possession charges in the November 2 death of the woman, Renisha McBride, 19. He called 911 to report the incident and later told police that the shooting was accidental.

Wafer appeared in Michigan District Court in Dearborn Heights on Friday, dressed in a gray T-shirt and blue jeans, but entered no plea.

District Court Judge Mark Plawecki set his bail at $250,000.

McBride's mother, Monica, described her middle daughter as a dog lover and "mama's girl," who would call to check in during breaks from work. Renisha McBride had two sisters, one older and one younger, her family said.

"I can't imagine in my wildest dreams what that man feared from her to shoot her in her face," Monica McBride told reporters after Wafer was charged.

Drunk and apparently injured from the car crash, McBride was killed on Wafer's front porch in Dearborn Heights around 4:30 a.m. on November 2.

Wafer, who has worked in maintenance for about 10 years at Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport and has a security clearance, told police he believed McBride was breaking into his home and his shotgun went off accidentally, blasting through a closed screen door.

Wafer's attorney, Mack Carpenter, said his client cares for his 81-year-old mother and has no criminal record other than alcohol-related driving violations dating back about 20 years.

Wafer was placed on administrative leave at the airport and had his ID badge suspended when charges were filed Friday, said airport spokesman Michael Conway.

McBride had a blood alcohol content of 0.218 percent, or nearly triple the 0.08 percent legal limit for driving in Michigan, and also had marijuana in her system, the Wayne County medical examiner's office found. No toxicology tests were conducted on Wafer.

"There is no duty to retreat when you are in your own house, but someone who claims self-defense must have an honest and reasonable belief of imminent death or imminent great bodily harm to himself or another person," Wayne County prosecutor Kym Worthy told a news conference.

"We do not believe he acted in lawful self-defense," she said, adding that race played no role in the charges.

Some speakers at a demonstration outside the Dearborn Heights police station likened McBride's shooting to that of Trayvon Martin, who was shot dead last year in Florida by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman.

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That case generated protests nationwide when police initially declined to arrest Zimmerman, who said he acted in self-defense. A jury later acquitted Zimmerman, who is white and Hispanic.

The killing has weighed heavily on Wayne County, which includes Detroit, a city coping with a financial crisis and seeking bankruptcy protection from creditors.

"It would be a gross understatement to say that there is an interest in this case, but we do not make our decisions in any case that we evaluate based on public opinion," Worthy said. "We let the facts and evidence guide us."

McBride family attorney Lawrence Thurswell played down reporters' questions as to whether the attack was racially motivated.

"The family is not taking a position that this is black or white," Thurswell said. "This was human profiling ... You don't take a gun and shoot somebody just because there's a noise outside. Life is valuable."

(Additional reporting by Kevin Murphy; Writing by Daniel Trotta and Scott Malone; Editing by Steve Orlofsky and Bernard Orr)