DETROIT (Reuters) - A white suburban Detroit homeowner was found guilty on Thursday of second-degree murder in the shooting of an unarmed black teen on his porch in a case that set off protests and fanned racial tensions.
Theodore Wafer, 55, sat stone-faced, staring straight ahead as the jury delivered its verdict after less than two full days of deliberations. He was also convicted of involuntary manslaughter and firearms charges.
The airport maintenance worker faces up to life in prison for killing Renisha McBride, 19, with a shotgun blast through his locked screen door after he was awakened in the early hours of Nov. 2 by repeated, violent knocking on his door.
McBride, who had been drinking and smoking marijuana, was apparently disoriented when she arrived Wafer’s house seeking help after getting in a car crash, according to testimony.
Although the killing sparked protests in Dearborn Heights and comparisons to the 2012 Florida shooting death of Trayvon Martin, a black teenager who was also unarmed, race played little role in the 11-day trial.
“Her life mattered and we showed that,” Monica McBride, the victim’s mother, told reporters after the verdict, hugging Wayne County assistant prosecuting attorney Patrick Muscat.
Wafer said that he had been alarmed by the loud knocking on his front and side doors. He said he “shot in fear” in self-defense through the screen door but was not aiming at anything.
But Muscat told jurors Wafer treated his Mossberg 12-gauge shotgun “like a toy” instead of a deadly weapon.
“He should have called 911,” McBride’s mother said. She has described her middle daughter as a dog lover and “mama’s girl” who would call to check in during breaks from work.
“That could have been anybody’s kid,” said Walter Simmons, Renisha McBride’s father, when asked if race was a factor. “I think he was ready for whoever came to his door.”
Jurors and Wafer’s defense attorney, Cheryl Carpenter, declined to talk to reporters.
Wafer was sent to jail before his Aug. 25 sentencing before Judge Dana Hathaway.
The McBride case initially sparked controversy in the Detroit area, which has long been troubled by racial tensions between the mostly black and impoverished city and the mostly white suburbs.
But unlike the case of Trayvon Martin, charges were filed quickly against Wafer - less than two weeks after McBride’s death. That appeared to calm community concerns.
Experts said Wafer’s claim of self-defense during the trial was hurt by a lack of evidence, such as physical marks from a struggle.
“If the outside door was pulled off its jamb or kicked in, it would have been a completely different case,” said Wayne State University law professor Peter Henning.
Wafer’s testimony, in which he admitted to intentionally pulling the trigger after earlier telling the police that the shooting was an accident, also failed to win him an acquittal.
“If they didn’t believe him, they were going to convict him,” Henning said.
Reporting by Aaron Foley; additional reporting by Brendan O'Brien; Writing by Mary Wisniewski; Editing by Sandra Maler