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Jury: Mich. Man Guilty In Shooting Death Of Girl On His Porch


We have reaction this morning to the verdict in a racially charged killing in suburban Detroit. A white man killed a black teenager on his porch. And there were, in effect, two trials.


One was the wider debate about race in America. The other was the specific criminal proceeding against Theodore Wafer, the man who has now been convicted of murder.

GREENE: He shot 19-year-old Renisha McBride on his front porch. Her death drew immediate comparisons to Trayvon Martin - another unarmed black teenager killed by a white man. But the two cases unfolded along very different paths. Michigan Radio's Sarah Cwiek reports.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Chanting) Come on, y'all. Renisha McBride, Renisha McBride, Renisha McBride.

SARAH CWIEK, BYLINE: In the days just after Renisha McBride's death, protests and candlelight vigils - like this one in front of the Dearborn Heights police station - popped up across metro Detroit. There was widespread anger over how the case was being handled. No one ever disputed that Theodore Wafer shot McBride dead on his front porch. But Wafer wasn't immediately arrested or charged with a crime or even publicly identified at first. Anger grew as word spread that Wafer was claiming self-defense. After nearly two weeks, Wafer was charged with second degree murder, and he pleaded not guilty. Wafer insisted that he woke up to violent pounding on his front door around 4:30 in the morning, November 2, terrified that someone was breaking in. So he grabbed his shotgun.

It's never been clear exactly how McBride got to Wafer's front porch that day. She had been drinking and smoking marijuana and crashed her car hours earlier. Witnesses to that accident say she had stumbled away, confused and disoriented. But whatever the case, everyone acknowledged that Wafer opened his front door and shot McBride dead. The only question was whether his actions were justified by a reasonable fear of either death or imminent bodily harm. Prosecutors argued they weren't and challenged Wafer directly when he took the stand to testify in his own defense.

THEODORE WAFER: I drew first. That's how I saw it - I see it.

ATHINA SIRINGAS: Shoot first, ask questions later, right?

WAFER: It was a threat - a threat that was coming in my house. Yes.

CWIEK: But in the end, the jury found Wafer guilty. Speaking just after that happened yesterday, McBride's parents said they were very pleased with the verdict. Wafer's lawyers had suggested that McBride may have been violent and unstable. Monica McBride admits her daughter made mistakes, but says she didn't deserve to die for them.

MONICA MCBRIDE: She was not violent. She was a regular teenager, and she was well-raised and brought up with loving family. And her life mattered.

CWIEK: Mcbride's father, Walter Simmons, says it became clear during the trial that Wafer had been angry about some recent vandalism and opened his door that night looking for a confrontation.

WALTER SIMMONS: He was just waiting on something to happen. And unfortunately, my daughter came to his door, and he shot her.

CWIEK: During the trial, McBride and Simmons say they deliberately kept a low profile. They believed that if the facts came out in court, the justice system would work for their daughter. Prosecutors wouldn't comment much on the verdict as Wafer awaits sentencing. But legally, the McBride case may leave its biggest mark by a limiting when homeowners can rightfully use deadly force, even in states like Michigan where the law gives them wide leeway to do that. As Walter Simmons put it...

SIMMONS: People have a right to bear their arms and everything else. But you have to do it with reason and responsibility, not just murder somebody.

CWIEK: Wafer will be sentenced on August 25. He could face up to life in prison. For NPR News, I'm Sarah Cwiek in Detroit. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Radio in October, 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit. Before her arrival at Michigan Radio, Sarah worked at WDET-FM as a reporter and producer.

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