There are always 2 sides to every story but in the trial for the murder of Renisha McBride, the two sides come from the same person–the defendant. Theodore Wafer’s two tall tales give conflicting accounts of what happened on the night that McBride was killed. The jury is the judge of the facts in every case and must decide on the truth.
Wafer testified on Day 9 of the trial and told a riveting account of the early morning hours of November 2, 2013 when he shot and killed McBride. His court room version was an emotional account with tears on how he was scared hearing the thunderous pounding of his front, side and back doors with metal hitting the door and his floors vibrating. Believing that multiple persons were attempting to break in his house, he didn’t want to cower or be a victim in his own home. And he shot in self- defense—saying it was them or him. Under the jury instructions which will be given to the jury, if Wafer’s court room version is believed, he had no duty to retreat if he believed he faced grave harm from an attack. He felt remorseful on the stand stating that “poor girl” had her whole life ahead of her. He wept and at least one juror wiped away tears.
Now contrast the court room version with the one he accounted to police just 2-3 hours after the killing. That was a wholly different tale. On the morning of the shooting when everything was still fresh in Wafer’s mind, he told a different version which was videotaped by the police and shown to the jury. He told the police that the shooting was an accident. He says he came to the door with the gun and unfortunately, she was right there. He did not refer to McBride as that “poor girl” with her whole life ahead of her, he referred to her in the video transcript as “it”. And he was not emotional during his account with the police, immediately following the killing. He never mentioned to police that he felt McBride or multiple people were trying to break into his house. He just said he shot someone who was banging on his door. He never told the police that someone was pounding on his side and back door or that he heard metal. He did not say he was afraid of the alleged multiple persons knocking on his doors.
The jury must decide on the credibility of the defendant and which version to believe—whether to believe the one on the night of the McBride’s killing, the one who testified in court when he was on trial for his life or neither one. And in weighing the two Wafers, they must decide which one has a reason to lie—the one on trial for his life or the one on the night of November 2, 2013, before he was arrested.
Actions often speak louder than words. In the Wafer trial, both are important. And in weighing the two different versions, the jury must also decide if Wafer’s actions were reasonable under the circumstances. He made a conscious decision to shoot first and ask questions later. He made a conscious decision to shoot first and then call the police later. He made a conscious decision to get a gun before he got his cell phone. He says, “I should have probably called you guys first” meaning the police. And that sums it all up in terms of reasonableness by his own words. He had other options.
A tall tale is often a story that is exaggerated and told as if it were true. In Wafer’s case, he told a tall tale at trial to fit his own needs—to be acquitted. He didn’t just forget some parts; He completely has two different versions of how the events unfolded. An accident fits into manslaughter while self-defense completely exonerates the defendant from both manslaughter and second degree murder. And the jury will be instructed on making false exculpatory statements. At the end of the deliberations, the jury must decide what to believe—the Theodore Wafer on trial or the one on the night of Renisha McBride’s killing. Jury deliberations will start after closing arguments on Wednesday, August 6.
UPDATE: August 6- Judge instructs the jury that under Michigan self defense law, there must be an attack for no duty to retreat. And judge says to defense attorney there was no attack by McBride. Defense cannot argue there was an attempted break in.
Debbie Hines is a practicing trial attorney and former prosecutor who has tried homicides, burglaries, narcotics and sex offense crimes. She founded LegalSpeaks blog in 2009 which focuses on gender and race issues in the law. She also contributes to the Huffington Post and the Women’s Media Center.