What is the difference between an accidental shooting that occurs during a legitimate act of self-defense, and the crimes of 2nd degree murder and manslaughter?

Ultimately, that is a question that the jurors will have to face in the trial of Thomas Wafer, a Dearborn Heights, Michigan homeowner.

Wafer claims that he was asleep in a recliner in the early morning hours of November 2, 2013, when he heard a loud banging sound at his side door and later his front door, which he interpreted an attempted break-in by more than one person. He armed himself with a shotgun, and after opening the inner door (presumably a standard steel door) at the front of the home, shot 19-year-old Renisha McBride through the locked screen door.

Wafer claims that McBride jumped out of the shadows on his porch and surprised him, causing him to reflexively fire the single shot that killed her.

The prosecution—who has charged Wafer with second degree murder, manslaughter and committing a felony with a firearm—is arguing that McBride, who was highly intoxicated and who had crashed her car nearly a mile away, was merely looking for help when she banged on Wafer’s door, and that Wafer killed her without just cause.

The defense will presumably claim that McBride was going well beyond knocking for help, and was violently banging on the door loud enough for Wafer to confuse it with an attempted home invasion. They’ll then likely employ witnesses to describe the severity of the alleged damage to the door, and the erratic behavior of the extremely drunk McBride (0.218, 11 times the legal limit for a 19-year-old, nearly three times the legal limit for a driving) from the time she wrecked her car to when she showed up on Wafer’s porch more than 3 hours later.

Unfortunately for the interests of real justice, “social justice” activists have attempted to make the trial about race, claiming that McBride had been “racially profiled.” Looked at objectively, that is not a very logical claim. Wafer’s porch was unlit, and the single fatal shot was fired shortly before 4.42 AM, when it is still very dark outside. Wafer maintains that he accidentally fired because he was startled… he wasn’t consciously aiming at anyone, or anything.

In the end, the prosecution is going to have to prove that Wafer took actions that intentionally led to McBride’s death if they want to obtain a 2nd degree murder or manslaughter conviction.

It is likely that the defense will bring in an expert to cast doubt on whether or not Wafer intentionally meant to fire the shot, and whether he acted in a reckless manner.

Presumably, the case will boil down to the following points.

  • Was Wafer’s decision to arm himself when he thought someone was breaking into his home the act of a “reasonable man?”
  • Was his decision to open the inner security door to ascertain whether or not his home sustained damage the act of a “reasonable man?”
  • Can the defense raise the reasonable doubt that Wafer was startled by the sudden reappearance of McBride and reflexively tightened his grip on the shotgun, inadvertently discharging the firearm in a tragic accident that is still part of a justifiable self-defense argument?

The prosecution seems to think that they have a good case, or they wouldn’t have pressed charges against Wafer (unless they succumbed to political pressure). The defense is acting as if they have a good case of proving that the shooting was a fatal accident that was still legal-self defense brought about by McBride’s drunken, erratic, and threatening behavior.

My gut feeling, based upon the commonly known details of the case, is that the prosecutor has over-charged Wafer intentionally with 2nd degree murder, hoping to make manslaughter appear to be a more reasonable alternative for the jury.

Does Wafer deserve a conviction for manslaughter, based upon what we presently know?

While it may be controversial to say so, I don’t think that he does.

Renisha McBride was highly intoxicated and allegedly acting very erratically for more than three hours before she approached Wafer’s home and began banging on the doors of his home hard enough that Wafer felt someone was attempting to break in.

I think Wafer made a tactical mistake in opening his inner (security) door, an act for which I can’t find an explanation, and yet, that seems only marginally different from the recent justifiable self-defense shooting of Moises Torres, who was shot and killed after a hotel guest thought the threat had passed and had opened his door, only to have Torres come charging at him. Torres’s shooter was not charged.

While Wafer will no doubt be haunted by her passing, his actions were neither deliberate nor criminal. In the end, it was Renisha McBride’s aggressive, drunken behavior that was cause of her death.