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Detroit-area man charged with murder in woman's porch death

By Jason Hanna and Leigh Remizowski, CNN
updated 12:44 PM EST, Sun November 17, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: "No justification to ... blow her head off," lawyer for woman's family says
  • Theodore Paul Wafer, 54, charged in 19-year-old's shooting death on his porch
  • Wafer says he thought she was a burglar; tests show she was intoxicated
  • Prosecutor: "We do not believe he acted in lawful self-defense"

(CNN) -- A Detroit-area man who claimed he accidentally shot and killed a 19-year-old woman he thought was breaking into his home was charged Friday with second-degree murder, after days of pressure from her relatives seeking an arrest.

Theodore Paul Wafer, 54, also was charged with manslaughter and possession of a firearm in the commission of a felony in the November 2 shooting of Renisha McBride, who authorities say was intoxicated and possibly disoriented following a car crash before Wafer shot her on his Dearborn Heights porch.

McBride was unarmed and there was no evidence of a break-in, so Wafer -- who authorities say shot McBride from behind a closed, locked screen door -- cannot lawfully claim he needed to shoot her to stop an imminent threat, Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy told reporters Friday.

"I am saying we do not believe he acted in lawful self-defense," Worthy said.

Gerald Thurswell, an attorney for McBride's family, hailed the charges, saying he believes the evidence points to murder, but that a jury could go for manslaughter if it disagrees.

Renisha McBride, 19, was shot and killed on the front porch of a home.  Renisha McBride, 19, was shot and killed on the front porch of a home.
Renisha McBride, 19, was shot and killed on the front porch of a home.Renisha McBride, 19, was shot and killed on the front porch of a home.

Either way, he said, Wafer was in the wrong.

"She was intoxicated. She may have been boisterous. She may have been loud. ... (But) this man had absolutely no justification to take a shotgun and blow her head off," Thurswell said Friday, not addressing Wafer's explanation to police that the gun discharged accidentally.

McBride's father, Walter Simmons, told reporters Friday he was thankful for the charges against "this monster that killed my daughter." Her mother, Monica McBride, dismissed notions that the shooting was accidental.

"You did no accident. You took a life, and you took a beautiful life that was starting to blossom into a beautiful woman," Monica McBride told reporters, addressing Wafer, who was in custody elsewhere.

Wafer was arraigned on the charges Friday afternoon, and he was being held on bail set at $250,000.

Report: Blood alcohol level of slain Detroit woman more than twice the legal limit

The crash and the shooting

The charges were the latest chapter in a case that received national media attention when McBride's family complained Wafer, who is white, wasn't immediately arrested and charged in the black woman's death. They contended she might have been seeking help when she approached his home.

Authorities said McBride, of Detroit, drove into a parked car in the city around 1 a.m. After her death, tests determined her blood-alcohol level was 0.218% -- nearly three times the 0.08% legal limit for drivers in Michigan, the Wayne County Medical Examiner's Office said.

Witnesses said she left on foot, bloodied and disoriented, Worthy said. McBride ended up on Wafer's porch in neighboring Dearborn Heights at least a couple hours later that morning.

Wafer told investigators he thought McBride was breaking into his home, and that the shotgun accidentally discharged when he investigated, police said.

After 911 was called at 4:42 a.m., the unarmed McBride was found dead with large shotgun wound to her face, Worthy said.

Investigators believe Wafer, standing in his home, opened the main door and shot the gun through a closed and locked screen door, Worthy said.

Michigan law says a person has no duty to retreat in his or her own home, but to shoot someone and claim legal self-defense, the resident must reasonably believe he or she faces an imminent threat of death or great bodily harm, and must show that the use of force was needed to prevent this, Worthy said.

There was no evidence of forced entry, and this case doesn't amount to self-defense, she said.

One of Wafer's attorneys, Cheryl Carpenter, was not immediately available for comment Friday afternoon, her office said.

Another attorney representing Wafer, Carpenter's father, Mack Carpenter, said this week that the death was a "tragic accident" and that his client was "completely justified in everything he did."

Worthy said her office didn't feel McBride's intoxication was relevant in the decision to file charges. She added she didn't believe a toxicology test was done for Wafer.

The second-degree murder charge carries a maximum sentence of life in prison. The manslaughter charge, which alleges the weapon was aimed with intent but without malice, carries a penalty of up to 15 years in prison.

A conviction on the felony firearm charge would mean a mandatory two-year prison term to be served before any other sentence.

The next court hearing is scheduled for December 18.

Wafer, an employee of the Wayne County Airport Authority, has been placed on administrative leave, authority spokesman Michael Conway told CNN.

Woman's father: No reason for death

At a rally outside Wafer's house Wednesday night, McBride's relatives and friends alleged that the white homeowner had racially profiled the woman.

On Friday afternoon, when asked if he thought race played a role in his daughter's death, Simmons demurred.

"I believe that this man took my daughter's life for no reason at all, from just one human being to another," Simmons said. "And we just want justice done."

Thurswell, the attorney for McBride's parents, told reporters Friday that Wafer was safe in his home, and he should have called 911 before shooting if he believed his life was in jeopardy, not after.

Thurswell said the family didn't know where McBride was in the hours before the crash or where she was going.

McBride's parents said she was a 2012 high school graduate who planned to take online classes and entertained thoughts of being a nurse or working in the automotive industry.

"She could have been anything, but she's cut short of that now," Simmons said.

Detroit woman's autopsy leaves questions

CNN's Josh Levs, Ralph Ellis, Ray Sanchez, Rande Iaboni, Susan Candiotti and Lawrence Crook contributed to this report.

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