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Man who shot unarmed Michigan teen convicted of second-degree murder

Photo from Chris Welch/CNN
Friday, August 8, 2014 - 8:00am

A Michigan man accused of gunning down an unarmed young woman on his front porch in November was convicted Thursday of second-degree murder, manslaughter and possessing a firearm while committing a felony.

Theodore Wafer, 55, faces a possible life prison term when sentenced on August 21. The jury deliberated for a little less than nine hours.

Wafer said he feared for his life when loud banging startled him awake in the early morning hours of November 2, 2013. He opened his front door and fired a fatal shotgun blast into the face of Renisha McBride, 19, who prosecutors say was seeking help after a car accident.

On Thursday, a judge ordered Wafer remanded to jail though the defense asked for house arrest.

After the verdict, McBride's parents issued a statement thanking jurors. They said they were not surprised by the verdict.

"She was a regular teenager," said her mother, Monica McBride. "She was well raised and brought up with a loving family, and her life mattered. And we showed that."

Wafer took the stand Monday to describe feeling the floor vibrate under his feet from the violent pounding on his front and kitchen doors. He said he couldn't find his cell phone to call 911, but retrieved his Mossberg 12-gauge shotgun from a closet and opened the front door at a quiet moment.

"I was not going to cower. I didn't want to be a victim in my own house," he said. "I drew first, that's how I see it."

McBride had a blood-alcohol level more than two times the legal limit at the time of her death and had smoked marijuana earlier in the evening, according to testimony.

Witnesses said she crashed her vehicle into a parked car in Dearborn Heights, Michigan, just before 1 a.m. and wandered off disoriented and bloodied. Some three hours later, she lay dead on Wafer's porch.

The incident sparked protest and was likened by some to the shooting of unarmed Florida teen Trayvon Martin in 2012.

McBride, 5-feet-4-inches tall, was African-American. Wafer, who is white and stands at over 6 feet, was criminally charged more than two weeks after the incident. Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy said then that race was not a factor in her office's decision-making on the case.

In her closing argument earlier this week, defense attorney Cheryl Carpenter was the first to bring the issue of race before the jury. "It is not a race issue. And I'm going to say that word, because nobody has mentioned it. It isn't. Ted didn't know who this was," she said.

"This man is the furthest thing from a racist," said Carpenter.

While Wafer said at trial that he acted in self-defense when he shot McBride, he also said the shooting was accidental.

Jurors saw a videotaped police interview with Wafer done only hours after the incident, where he told investigators he had forgotten the Mossberg 12-gauge was even loaded and meant only to scare off would-be intruders.

Facing off with prosecutor Athina Siringas during a two-hour cross examination, Wafer said he must have disengaged the safety inadvertently and that his finger hit the trigger as a "total reflex reaction" when a figure suddenly appeared from the side as he stood in the doorway.

"You either shot on purpose because you were in fear, or the gun went off accidentally. Which one is it?" asked Siringas.

"I shot in fear," Wafer replied.

"So that means you shot on purpose?"

"Yes."

Siringas' co-counsel, Patrick Muscat, suggested in his closing argument that Wafer invented the self-defense scenario to hedge his bets, because he'd realized an accidental killing could still get him convicted of murder in the second degree.

A claim of self defense allows jurors to find a defendant not guilty if they find he acted in the "honest and reasonable" belief he was in danger of being killed or seriously injured, according to Michigan law.

After the incident, Wafer told police he was angry and "full of piss and vinegar" when he opened the door that night, Muscat told the jury.

CNN's Julia Lull contributed to this report.

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