State high court looking at porch shooting trial

By Ed White
Associated Press

DETROIT (AP) — The Michigan Supreme Court is zeroing in on jury instructions in the case of a man who killed an unarmed woman on his porch in suburban Detroit — a key step that might eventually upset the second-degree murder conviction in the high-profile 2014 trial.

Theodore Wafer wanted an instruction that said he shot Renisha McBride because her actions showed she was breaking into his house.

The trial judge explained self-defense to jurors but rejected that specific instruction.

In a recently released order, the Supreme Court said it will consider whether Wafer’s rights were violated. It’s possible that the court will take no action after reading more briefs or hearing
arguments in the weeks ahead.

“I see this as a very good preliminary sign for Ted Wafer,” said Neil Rockind, a defense attorney and former prosecutor who’s not involved in the case. “Somebody at the Michigan Supreme Court is interested in this issue. That’s a big hurdle to get over.”

Wafer shot McBride, 19, through a screen door at his home in Dearborn Heights in 2013. They didn’t know each other. He said he was afraid after being awakened by relentless pounding before dawn, but jurors convicted him of second-degree murder. He was sentenced to at least 17 years in prison.

At trial, Wayne County Judge Dana Hathaway said the evidence didn’t show that McBride, who was drunk and had crashed her car, was in the process of breaking into Wafer’s home. She rejected Wafer’s proposed jury instruction.

“The judge made mistakes of law, imposing higher burdens of production and proof on (Wafer) than the law allows and improperly usurping the role of the jury,” his appellate lawyer, Jacqueline McCann, said in a court filing.

In 2016, the Michigan appeals court upheld Hathaway’s ruling, saying “loud ineffectual banging on a door” doesn’t equal a break-in. Rockind said the Supreme Court might have to wrestle with what “breaking-in means.”

“Self-defense and the exercise of a person’s Second Amendment right to possess a firearm to defend yourself and your castle — these are very hot topics,” he said. “It can cross political lines. It can touch philosophical lines.”