DETROIT – Lawyers for a Detroit-area man who fatally shot a young, unarmed woman on his porch are asking a rookie judge to step aside and are signaling that the victim's lifestyle should be fair game at a June trial.
Several court filings reviewed by The Associated Press show Theodore Wafer plans an aggressive defense to a charge of second-degree murder. Suggestions that Renisha McBride was on his Dearborn Heights porch simply to seek help after a car crash are "fiction" and "utterly erroneous," says attorney Cheryl Carpenter.
A hearing on some pre-trial motions is set for Friday
There is no dispute that Wafer, 55, shot McBride in the face on Nov. 2. His lawyers insist he opened the front door and fired in self-defense, fearing that the drunken 19-year-old was trying to break into his home before dawn. Prosecutors, however, say he should have called 911 and kept the door shut.
Civil rights groups have suggested race may have played a role in the shooting, but prosecutors haven't presented any evidence to make that connection. Wafer is white; McBride was black.
Carpenter is asking a judge to let jurors see photos from McBride's phone that show her with wads of money, alcohol and marijuana. One is a blurry photo of McBride holding what appears to be a gun. The dates are not known.
Days after the shooting, a man who lived in Wafer's neighborhood was arrested after police found guns and marijuana, Carpenter said.
"Ms. McBride could have thought she was breaking into her marijuana supplier's house" when she was shot on the porch, the defense attorney claims.
Carpenter said text messages, photos, school records and a previous run-in with the law are relevant to "whether Ms. McBride had a character trait for aggression." Prosecutors, however, will argue they're not relevant.
Wafer's lawyers also want the trial moved out of Wayne County because of intense publicity, and they're asking Judge Qiana Lillard to pass the case to another judge. She was a prosecutor for more than eight years before Gov. Rick Snyder appointed her to the bench last August.
Lillard is Facebook friends with prosecutors in the Wafer case, Carpenter said, and former co-workers are on her campaign committee for the fall election.
"The risk that Judge Lillard would subconsciously use personal and/or political relationships with the prosecution to Mr. Wafer's detriment is simply too great here," Carpenter wrote.
The defense team also wants to introduce a map of police calls within a 1-mile radius of Wafer's home in the months preceding the shooting. About 80 were related to shots being fired in the area — proof of Wafer's state of mind about the "dangerousness of Dearborn Heights," Carpenter said.
McBride, who had an extremely high blood-alcohol level, was killed three hours after her car struck a parked car about a half-mile away in Detroit. She walked away from the crash. It's not known where she went on foot before arriving at Wafer's porch.
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