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Murder or mistake? Michigan porch shooting trial goes to jury

By Aaron Foley

DETROIT (Reuters) - A Detroit jury on Wednesday began deliberations to decide whether the shooting of an unarmed black teenager by a white suburban homeowner was murder or a fear-driven mistake.

A prosecutor in the trial of Theodore Wafer, 55, said the airport maintenance worker handled his shotgun "like a toy" when he shot through a screen door and killed Renisha McBride, 19, last November.

McBride had been drinking and smoking marijuana before getting into an early morning car crash, and knocked on the door of Wafer's Dearborn Heights home looking for help.

The Mossberg 12-gauge shotgun used by Wafer "is a dangerous weapon and the way he handled it - he handled it like a toy, and as a result a 19-year-old is dead," Wayne County assistant prosecuting attorney Patrick Muscat told jurors during closing arguments.

Defense attorney Cheryl Carpenter said Wafer acted in self-defense, and that while he may have been mistaken, he's not guilty.

"He's not a gun nut, he's not an angry person, he's not paranoid," said Carpenter. "He was in terror."

The killing has sparked protests in Dearborn Heights and comparisons to the 2012 Florida shooting death of Trayvon Martin, a black teenager who was also unarmed. Race has rarely been mentioned in the trial.

Carpenter told the mostly white jury that self-defense is the "ultimate protection for all of us" and that people in the Detroit area know what it is to live in fear of crime.

"It's not a race issue," Carpenter said, adding that Wafer is not a racist.

Wafer could face up to life in prison if convicted of second degree murder. He also faces manslaughter and firearms charges.

To convict Wafer of second-degree murder, the jury must find that he meant to kill or cause great bodily harm, or knowingly created a situation that could result in death or bodily harm.

The jury started deliberations by asking to see Wafer's gun, and then his screen door.

Wafer had told police that the shooting was an accident. He testified this week that violent knocking on the front and side doors of his Dearborn Heights home caused him to think someone was breaking in. He said he "shot in fear" when he saw a figure coming to his door but he did not take aim.

Muscat said Wafer's shotgun is designed to kill, not scare people away.

"You can't claim self-defense simply as a reaction to someone on your porch," Muscat said.

Deliberations continue on Thursday.

(Reporting by Aaron Foley; Editing by Mary Wisniewski, Bill Trott and Sandra Maler)

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