Theodore Wafer was found guilty of 2nd degree murder, manslaughter and discharging a firearm in the commission of a felony on August 7 for the murder of 19 year old Renisha McBride. The verdict, just one day after closing arguments, sends a loud message that the jury did not struggle with reaching their verdict.
While the defense said in closing argument that the case was not about race, it was everything about race and gender. Wafer, a middle aged white man, used every conceivable racial coding language during his testimony. He testified that he feared for his life as several persons might be breaking into his home, in his now changing suburban neighborhood. He testified about how he was scared hearing the thunderous pounding of his front, side and back doors with metal hitting the door and his floors vibrating. Testifying 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 claims he shot in self- defense. And prior to the start of this trial, defense attorney Cheryl Carpenter used the same words used by the George Zimmerman defense, “up to no good” in referring to Renisha McBride and the possibility of her attempting a break in of Wafer’s suburban home. Judge Dana Hathaway rejected that argument. And because the case was about race, it was important that four of the twelve jurors were African American, two of whom were women.
The jury had to decide on the credibility of the defendant and which version to believe—whether to believe the one taken on the morning 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 Theodore Wafer versions, they undoubtedly decided that one or both were untruthful. A key jury instruction was the one on false exculpatory statements. This means the jury could find that Wafer’s conflicting statements at trial were falsely made to claim his innocence.
And this jury likely used their common sense to understand that in a securely locked home, you first look for your phone to call the police instead of getting your gun to shoot an unarmed stranger. Wafer 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 on his November, 2013 videotaped statement to the police, “I should have probably called you guys first” meaning the police. And that sums it up in terms of what the jury’s verdict meant, by his own words.
A sobbing Theodore Wafer said at trial that Renisha McBride had her whole life ahead of her. And now, Wafer has his whole life ahead of him to truly be remorseful about the young innocent life he took. His sentencing is August 21. He faces life in prison on the 2nd degree murder, 15 years on the manslaughter and 2 years on the firearm charge. He was immediately taken into custody following today’s verdict despite his attorneys’ pleas to remain in his home pending sentencing.
Following court today, the parents of Renisha McBride thanked the prosecutors. And while nothing will bring their daughter back, hopefully this verdict might give them some measure of peace.
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.