‘I Was Not Going to Cower,’ Says Homeowner Who Fatally Shot Unarmed Teen

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Photo: Rebecca Cook/Reuters/Corbis

In November 2013, 54-year-old Theodore Wafer was charged with second-degree murder, manslaughter, and possession of a firearm for fatally shooting 19-year-old Renisha McBride on the front porch of his suburban Detroit home. McBride, who had been drinking heavily and smoking pot that night, wound up at Wafer's door after wandering away from the scene of a late-night car accident several hours before. (Witnesses said she appeared "disoriented.") Prosecutors and McBride's family say she was clearly looking for help. Wafer said that he acted in self-defense, having taken the noise McBride was making outside for a sign that someone was trying to break into his house. Wafer, who said that he'd purchased his 12-gauge shotgun for protection from neighborhood criminals, is white. McBride was unarmed and black, and her death quickly attracted comparisons to that of Trayvon Martin (especially since Wafer wasn't charged until two weeks after she died). Unlike George Zimmerman, Wafer has been testifying at his own trial, which is now in its tenth day. 

Michigan's self-defense law permits a person to use deadly force when they "honestly and reasonably believe" that they are in immediate danger of being killed or badly hurt. Like most states, Michigan also has a "castle doctrine," which means that a person isn't required to "retreat" from a threat when they're in their home. As with Florida's similar, much-discussed "stand-your-ground" law, critics of castle doctrines say that they can encourage people to act more aggressively than they might if they didn't think that the law was on their side.

Over the last two days, Wafer has described how he was awoken at around 5 a.m. by loud banging. "I’ve never heard anything like it," he said. "I still can't wrap my mind around it that a woman can make those sounds." He also claimed that he was unable to find his cell phone to call 911, so he crawled around in the dark until he reached the closet where he kept his gun. "I needed to find out what was going on. I was not going to cower. I didn't want to be a victim in my own house," he said.

The New York Times reports that, on cross-examination, prosecutor Athina Siringas "questioned [Wafer's] account, pointing out that he had told the police that his phone is regularly kept in his jeans pocket." From the Times:

“You didn’t call the police because you were mad and you wanted to handle this thing yourself, right?” she said.

“I was upset,” Mr. Wafer said. “I had a lot of emotions. I was scared. I had fear. I was panicking.”

Wafer eventually opened his interior steel door and, without opening the screen door behind it, shot McBride in the face. During his testimony, he claimed that he didn't get a look at the five-foot-four, 184-pound teenager until after she was dead, repeatedly saying that he "just reacted" to a "figure." "I shot in fear," he said. Later, Siringas pointed out that, on the night of the shooting, Wafer didn't tell the police that he had felt afraid until they prompted him to. "I guess in front of a cop I didn't want to come across as less of a man," he explained.