Law enforcement testimony suggests Wafer’s firing of the shotgun may have been unintentional, undercutting a legal defense of self-defense.
The State’s case against Wafer proceeded through several more witnesses today, including additional officers on scene as well as dash-cam video from a “Scout” patrol car, witnesses to McBride’s single-vehicle car crash some hours before the shooting, and the 911 dispatcher who took Wafer’s call.
To me the most relevant bits of testimony came at the start and end of the morning, both having to do with the notion that Wafer’s firing of the shotgun was unintentional.
When Dearborn Heights police officer Rory McManmon was testifying with respect to the dash-cam recording, it was revealed that Wafer indicated he didn’t know that there was a round in the shotgun’s chamber.
Similarly, just before the lunch break 911 dispatcher Valentine Pepper testified that Wafer told him over the phone that he fired the shotgun by accident. (This part of the 911 call was not recorded, however, because it occurred when 911 called back Wafer.)
Such testimony is relevant because any indication that a shooting was accidental or inadvertent is very damaging to a self-defense claim. Self-defense is an inherently deliberate act–essentially the defendant is saying, “YES, I shot that person, and they died as a result, but I did so in necessary and lawful self-defense.” An accident, on the other hand, is the opposite of a deliberate act–it’s something you explicitly did not intend to have happen. If you claim one, you generally lose the other.
It’s important to keep in mind that under Michigan law, second degree murder (the most serious of the charges against Wafer) does not require the prosecution to prove any intent to cause death or grave bodily harm (although such proof beyond a reasonable doubt would be sufficient).
Rather, the prosecution need merely convince the jury beyond a reasonable doubt that (1) Wafer caused the death of McBride–a fact not in dispute; and (2) that Wafer knowingly created a very high risk of death or great bodily harm knowing that death or great bodily harm would be the likely result of his actions. Here Judge Dana Hathaway reads the second degree murder instruction to the jury:
OK, folks, that’s it for today. We’ll have more coverage of today’s Wafer trial at day’s end.
[NOTE: Images of trial postings from the live blog of the Detroit Free Press have been removed at their request.]
Andrew F. Branca is an MA lawyer and the author of the seminal book “The Law of Self Defense, 2nd Edition,” available at the Law of Self Defense blog (autographed copies available) and Amazon.com (paperback and Kindle). He holds many state-specific Law of Self Defense Seminars around the country, and produces free online self-defense law educational video- and podcasts at the Law of Self Defense University.DONATE
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