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Michigan Homeowner Charged In Deadly Porch Shooting

Nov 15, 2013

In the early hours of November 2, 19-year-old Renisha McBride was fatally shot by a homeowner in Dearborn Heights, Mich. McBride had apparently been knocking on the front door, looking for help after she crashed her car into a parked vehicle about a mile away.

Authorities say the man shot the unarmed young woman in the face while she was standing on his porch. The homeowner originally told police that the gun went off accidentally, but has since said that he shot McBride because he feared for his life.

Civil rights groups believe that race was a factor in the shooting. McBride was black, and the homeowner, Theodore Wafer, is white.

Wafer is now being charged with second-degree murder.

Here & Now’s Meghna Chakrabarti speaks with reporter Sarah Cwiek of Michigan Public Radio, and to Rev. Charles Williams II, a Detroit pastor and president of the Michigan chapter of the National Action Network.


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A significant development today in the case of Renishe McBride, she's the 19-year-old woman who was shot and killed by a Michigan homeowner after knocking on his door earlier this month. Fifty-four-year-old Theodore Wafer claims he shot McBride in self-defense, and the case has drawn comparisons to the Trayvon Martin case in Florida among others. Well, today, Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy announced that she will be pressing charges against Wafer.

ATTORNEY KYM WORTHY: We obviously do not feel that the evidence in this case reveals that the defendant acted in lawful self-defense.

CHAKRABARTI: Joining us now with more is Michigan Radio reporter, Sarah Cwiek, who's been following the story. And Sarah, first of all, outline for us the charges that Kym Worthy has decided to bring against Theodore Wafer.

SARAH CWIEK, BYLINE: There are three charges against Mr. Wafer. The first, probably, the biggest, is second degree murder, he's also charged with manslaughter and possession of a firearm during attempted commission of a felony. There are three charges at all.

CHAKRABARTI: OK. Three charges and the murder one being the biggest one amongst them. Did Kym Worthy say anything about Wafer's self-defense claims here?

CWIEK: She did. She said that obviously by the fact that they're bringing second degree murder charges against him, they do not believe that his claims of self-defense meet the Michigan standards. And she used some very specific language on state law which goes like this, which is that, if you're within your own home - and Mr. Wafer is believed to have shot Ms. McBride when he was inside his home through the door - you have no duty or responsibility to retreat within your own home.

"But" - and I'm quoting here - "someone who claims lawful self-defense must have an honest and reasonable - honest and reasonable belief of imminent death or imminent great bodily harm of himself or another person, and a use of force that used must be necessary to prevent that imminent death or great bodily harm." So obviously, they believe that this crime did not live up to that standard.

CHAKRABARTI: To the Michigan standard, OK. Now, of course, one of the central issues in this case is race, because Renisha McBride was black and Theodore Wafer is white, did Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy say anything at all about the racial aspects of this case?

CWIEK: She said that race had absolutely no impact whatsoever on the decision - decision to bring charges, that the decision to bring charges was based solely on the evidence. But she also said, when pressed about it, that, obviously, the issue of race could come up at trial. But at this point, we just don't know how exactly it will play into the trial itself.

CHAKRABARTI: OK. And finally, I understand the toxicology test were also released recently that revealed that Renisha McBride had a blood alcohol level of three - or two or three times the legal limit. Can you give us the latest on that?

CWIEK: Yes. It appears that she was intoxicated I've seen and - more than twice the legal limit, I believe. And the circumstances surrounding how she got on Mr. Wafer's porch still remain a little murky. Some hours earlier before she was shot, she was in a single car accident a few blocks away from his home. And Kym Worthy did say today, that witnesses - some seen it by accident - said that she appeared bloody and disoriented.

But all we know is that some hours later, she ended up on Mr. Wafer's front porch and that she ended up dead. So that timeline of what exactly happened, how intoxicated she was and all sorts of things, still to be revealed and obviously will be very important on this case.

CHAKRABARTI: That's Michigan Radio reporter Sarah Cwiek. Thank you so much, Sarah.

CWIEK: Thank you.

CHAKRABARTI: Well, let's turn now to Reverend Charles Williams. He's president of the Michigan chapter of the National Action Network and pastor of the King Solomon Baptist Church in Detroit. Reverend Williams, welcome to the program.

REVEREND CHARLES WILLIAMS II: Thank you so much for having me.

CHAKRABARTI: First of all, let me ask you, there have been many rallies around - in the community surrounding the case and story of Renisha McBride. What's your reaction to the fact that Kym Worthy has now decided to press charges against Theodore Wafer?

II: Well, I think the local and the national community certainly has been watching this very, very important case. It does similar to Trayvon Martin. And it does have some comparisons. And so all of us want to see, will we see the same thing we saw twice with what happened in Florida and George Zimmerman? But I will say that, you know, we - all of the long, we have had complete confidence in Kym Worthy, the Wayne County prosecutor. She acted quickly. And, you know, we were glad that they were able to come up with something, you know, in their investigation. That mimics pretty much what the community is looking for, and that's justice.

CHAKRABARTI: Well, Reverend Williams, let me ask you because this happened near - in Dearborn Heights, which is a predominantly white suburb of Detroit. What has it been like in the community, you know, in the past several days and weeks since the shooting? I mean, because, obviously, there's already been sort of racial tension for a variety of reasons there. What's it been like in the community?

II: Well, there's always been a racial tension in the city of Detroit - over 86 percent African-American. There are many of those who won't cross the other side of Telegraph, which is the suburban area of - the metro area of Detroit, and won't cross the other side of 8 Mile, which is a very famous place, made famous by Eminem, which is suburb being first and second ring suburb areas of Metro Detroit.

And there's always been that tension there that in that place, you could be, you know, profiled by the police. You could enter into a situation where you could be in a place where Renisha McBride is in right now. And so I think that tension's always been there - always has been there. And, really, and until we begin to deal with the issue of these racial divides or politics of race in the Metro Detroit area, we won't see - we won't really see leave.

CHAKRABARTI: Well, in the last minute that we have here, do you think this case is going to help or hurt those efforts? Because on the one hand, I mean, a lot of people are saying, look, Renisha McBride was - this is what they're claiming - was racially profiled by Theodore Wafer, and that's why this shooting happened. But on the other hand, you know, it's bringing these issues to the four. So what do you - is this going to help or hurt?

II: You know, I think it's going to help only because we have raised the conversation to race. But there are many groups, in particularly, National Action Network, we're going to be hosting a series of conversations throughout the metro area about race in the Detroit Metro area and how we can heal the hurts that so many have deep inside of us.

CHAKRABARTI: Well, that's Reverend Charles Williams. He is the pastor of the King Solomon Baptist Church and president of the Michigan chapter of the National Action Network. Reverend Williams, thank you so much for joining us today.

II: Thank you.

CHAKRABARTI: And we also - that's the latest on the case of Renisha McBride, the 19-year-old woman who was shot in Michigan. Charges have been brought against 54-year-old Theodore Wafer. You're listening to HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.