The Accidental Case of Self Defense- The Shooting of Renisha McBride-Lessons Learned
The Shooting of Renisha McBride
A case of ‘accidental self-defense’
Part 6: Lessons from the Ted Wafer Verdict
Attorney Cheryl Carpenter made an emotional plea for mercy at Ted Wafer’s sentencing hearing, telling the judge that Wafer “shows more remorse than any client I have ever seen.” After the jury convicted him of second-degree murder, she was incredulous. “Ted is not a cold blooded killer,” Carpenter told a WWJ-TV reporter. “Yes, he did kill somebody, but it was a reaction to the fear he was feeling. It haunts him.”
“I don’t think it’s fair or just that he is now labeled a murderer.”
Wafer shot Renisha McBride on the porch of his home in the Detroit suburb of Dearborn Heights just before 4AM on November 2, 2013. Earlier in the evening McBride had been drinking and smoking marijuana with a friend. Around 1AM, she crashed her car into a parked vehicle, and when she showed up at Wafer’s home, banging violently on his door, she was likely confused and looking for help.
The loud banging woke Wafer, who had fallen asleep in front of the television. He frantically looked for his cell phone, but unable to find it, reached instead for his pistol-grip Mossberg shotgun and confronted the “shadowy figure” he saw through the peephole at his front door. When he opened the door, McBride tried to push through the locked screen door, and Wafer fired his shotgun, striking her in the face, killing her instantly.
After an investigation, police arrested Wafer for second degree murder. Nine months later, a jury found him guilty, and Ted Wafer is now serving a minimum 17-year sentence.
Don West, National Trial Counsel for CCW Safe and veteran criminal defense lawyer, has wrestled with this case, saying that it’s very easy to see why Wafer would have interpreted McBride’s behavior as aggressive and threatening, and that it is difficult to stomach seeing a man go to prison over what was a tragic misunderstanding.
Nonetheless, Wafer made a number of critical errors that, when compounded, led to the difficult guilty verdict:
Wafer shot Renisha McBride on his porch. In a previous installment, we discussed how a porch is considered “curtilage,” and is legally part of the home. After trial, Wafer’s lawyer told reporters, “We heard the jury instruction the judge read that said simply, ‘a porch is a part of a person’s home.’ So we have that, we know that Renisha was in Ted’s house because she was, and everyone agrees, she was on the porch.” But what not everyone agreed upon (including the judge) was that Renisha had broken into the porch or that she was trying to break into the home. Legally, the porch was part of the home, but from a practical sense, it was a gray area in regards to classifying McBride’s actions as a “break-in.”
Moreover, Wafer left the relative safety of his living room and unlocked the front door to confront the stranger on his porch, and that represented a major escalation in the encounter. Don West said that by “opening up the door, he went from a position of safety to a position of vulnerability.” At trial, prosecutors said Wafer’s escalation “created an unacceptably high risk of danger by arming himself and, under the circumstances, behaved so recklessly as to be guilty of murder or manslaughter.” Had Wafer stayed in his living room, he would have avoided the gray area of the porch, and it’s likely McBride would never have made it into his home, and the shooting would have been avoided.
There is no doubt that being awoken in the middle of the night by violent pounding on your front door is a terrifying experience. When Wafer says, “I was upset. I had a lot of emotions. I was scared. I had fear,” it’s not hard to believe him. But fear alone doesn’t justify homicide. The fear has to be reasonable, and it must be borne of an imminent threat of bodily injury or death. To use the prosecutor’s threshold, Wafer’s use of deadly force was not “immediately necessary.”
Finally, Wafer made the error of giving statements to police without the advice of a lawyer. His statement that “I didn’t know there was a shot in there” led to a disastrous jury instruction that allowed jurors to regard prior false exculpatory statements as evidence of guilt. Wafer was clearly rattled after the shooting, and it’s unlikely he was trying to hatch some master plan to get away with murder. He made a self-serving statement in passing to police that went on the record and damaged his credibility to investigators, to the judge, and ultimately the jurors who held his fate in their hands.
With their verdict, the jury branded Wafer a murderer. He is serving a minimum sentence of 17 years. He’ll be in his seventies, at least, when released. His lawyer said that, for her client, that’s the same as a death sentence.
Prison aside, Wafer struggles with the consequences of his actions. At sentencing he said, “She was too young to leave this world, and for that I’ll carry guilt and sorrow forever.” His lawyer said, “There are times he wishes it was him and not her.”
Before handing out his sentence, Judge Dana Hathaway told Wafer, “I’m certain that you are remorseful, but none of that excuses what happened.” She added, the New York Times reports, that Wafer was an “otherwise law-abiding citizen who had most likely acted out of anger and panic.”
The simple lesson of this case is that Wafer should have called 911 and waited in the relative safety of his living room before resorting to the use of deadly force. The more complicated lesson is that, in an emotion-charged moment of panic, Ted Wafer got a shotgun and, probably without thinking clearly about it, put himself in a situation where a physical confrontation was likely — in this case inevitable.
As a concealed carrier or a gun owner concerned with home defense, it’s important to remember that when you take a loaded weapon in your hands, you’re creating a scenario where you may have to make a life and death decision. The moment to contemplate the burden of that decision is not the instant before you pull the trigger, but rather the moment you reach for your firearm in the first place.
Prosecutor Patrick Muscat accused Wafer of handling his Mossberg 12 gauge shotgun “like a toy.” That sounds like hyperbole, but I’ll leave it to you to look back at Ted Wafer’s experience and decide for yourself whether he took the life or death responsibility associated with wielding a shotgun seriously enough.
Shawn Vincent- Litigation Consultant
Shawn Vincent is a litigation consultant who helps select juries in self-defense cases, and he manages public interest of high-profile legal matters. If you have any questions for Shawn, or would like more articles like this, let us know below!