Michigan High Court Dismisses Manslaughter Conviction in Porch Shooting Case, Orders Reconviction

The Michigan Supreme Court overturned the manslaughter conviction and ordered a new sentence for a Dearborn Heights man charged with the 2013 death of a woman who knocked on his front door.

In an opinion released on Wednesday, the court said Theodore Wafer should not have been punished for both second-degree murder and manslaughter, finding that the double jeopardy clause prohibits multiple sentences for the same homicide.

“We are not aware of any cases in this state in which defendants were convicted and received penalties for second degree murder and manslaughter based on a single murder,” the filing said.

Wafer is serving concurrent sentences of 15 to 30 years for murder and 7 to 15 years for manslaughter. He was also sentenced to a mandatory two additional years for felony firearms.

The former Detroit Metropolitan Airport maintenance worker was convicted in 2014 of the shooting death of 19-year-old Renisha McBride. Wafer’s trial attorney argued that he feared for his life and believed that McBride, who was intoxicated, had attempted to break and enter on November 2, 2013.

Prosecutors and her family say she called for help on her porch and became disoriented after a single-car crash less than a mile away. Wafer shot the woman in the face through a screen door.

In 2018, Wafer’s attorneys sought to have his conviction overturned, claiming his legal rights were violated when the jury received erroneous instructions. the

The Michigan Supreme Court denied the request.

The court agreed to hear arguments last year on whether it was improper for Wafer to be convicted of murder and manslaughter in the same death.

In briefs filed before those arguments, his attorney, Jacqueline McCann of the State Appellate Defender Office, wrote that Wafer’s manslaughter conviction contradicted that of murder, because it requires malice.

At a hearing, prosecutors said the sentencing was not a double jeopardy case.

“He had due process for people to prove his guilt on every item and every crime charged and people did in this case,” Wayne County Assistant District Attorney Amanda Smith told the judges.

In its opinion Wednesday, the state Supreme Court disagreed, citing state law.

“The issue presented in this case is whether the double jeopardy clause prohibits these multiple sentences for the same homicide,” the court said. “We find the answer to this question in the statutory text establishing these crimes.

“To be guilty of second-degree murder … an individual must have acted maliciously. In contrast, Parliament designed the law of manslaughter to encompass certain conduct that occurred ‘non-maliciously,'” the opinion said.

“…By including this wording, Parliament made it clear that it was seeking to prevent an individual from receiving sentences for these two offenses in relation to a single homicide. Accordingly, we reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals , which came to the opposite conclusion and remanded this case to the trial court for further processing.”

In a statement Wednesday evening, Jessica Zimbelman, managing attorney

at the State Appellate Defender Office, said the court “correctly recognized that the legislature did not intend to punish a person twice for the same behavior.”

She added that Wafer’s second-degree murder conviction remains in place.

“The practical effect of the Court’s decision means that Mr. Wafer will be re-sentenced as his range of statutory sentencing guidelines will change following the Court’s decision,” she wrote. “The re-sentencing will probably happen in a few months.”

A representative from the Wayne County District Attorney’s Office did not immediately respond to a request for comment late Wednesday on the ruling.

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About Charles D. Goolsby

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