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November 16, 2013

Family seeks answers in deadly Michigan porch shooting

DEARBORN HEIGHTS, Mich. — The parents of a 19-year-old woman who was shot in the face on the porch of a suburban Detroit home say they find it hard to believe their daughter posed a threat to the man charged in her death.

Walter Ray Simmons and Monica McBride spoke publicly Friday after Theodore Wafer was charged with second-degree murder and manslaughter in the death of Renisha McBride on his Dearborn Heights porch.

"I can't imagine what that man feared from her. I would like to know why," Monica McBride said.

Police say Renisha McBride was shot a couple of hours after being involved in a nearby car accident on Nov. 2. Family members say the former high school cheerleader likely approached Wafer's home for help. Wafer's lawyer, Mack Carpenter, said the pre-dawn hour and McBride's condition — a toxicology report found she had alcohol and marijuana in her system — contribute to his client's "very strong defense."

McBride's parents are relieved to see the wheels of justice turning but can't accept any claim to self-defense.

"I couldn't accept no apology because my daughter don't breathe no more," said her father, Walter Ray Simmons. "I believe this man took my daughter's life for no reason. We just want justice done."

Wafer, 54, was arraigned Friday afternoon on the murder and manslaughter charges as well as a felony weapons charge. A probable cause hearing was set for Dec. 18.

What happened between when McBride crashed into a parked vehicle several blocks north of Wafer's neighborhood and the shooting remains unclear. Police received a 911 call from Wafer about 4:42 a.m., in which he tells the dispatcher: "I just shot somebody on my front porch with a shotgun, banging on my door."

They found McBride's body on the porch.

Under a 2006 Michigan self-defense law, a homeowner has the right to use force during a break-in. Otherwise, a person must show that his or her life was in danger.

Prosecutors say evidence shows McBride knocked on a locked screen door and did not try to force her way in. The interior front door was open, and Wafer fired through "the closed and locked screen door," said prosecutor Kym Worthy, who declined to discuss details about the investigation.

"We do not believe he acted in lawful self-defense," she added.

A toxicology report released Thursday showed McBride, a 2012 Southfield High School graduate, had a blood alcohol content of about 0.22, more than twice the legal limit for driving. Her blood also tested positive for the active ingredient in marijuana.

The shooting has drawn attention from civil rights groups who called for a thorough investigation and believe race was a factor in the shooting — McBride was black; prosecutors said Wafer is white. Some have drawn comparisons between the case and that of Trayvon Martin, the black, unarmed 17-year-old Florida boy shot in 2012 by a suspicious neighbor. Neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman was acquitted in July of second-degree murder.

Worthy insisted Friday that race wasn't relevant in her decision to file charges and wouldn't compare the case to Martin's death.

Wafer is a 10-year employee at a local airport and has a clean record except for having been in court for past drunken-driving cases, Carpenter said.

Wafer's brick bungalow is in northeast Dearborn Heights, a town adjacent to Detroit and a diverse area that's home to white, black and Arab-American residents. His neighborhood consists mostly of well-kept bungalows and small ranches, and is near a community college campus and a mosque.

McBride's family members also they were hesitant to point to McBride's skin color as a reason she was shot.

"We didn't want to make this a racial situation. We didn't want to inflame anybody," family attorney Gerald Thurswell said. "The family is not taking a position that this is black or white. You don't take a gun and shoot somebody because there's a noise outside."

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