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Michigan man gets new judge for murder trial in porch shooting

Theodore Wafer sits in the court room during his arraignment in Detroit, Michigan January 15, 2014, for the November 2, 2013 shooting death
Theodore Wafer sits in the court room during his arraignment in Detroit, Michigan January 15, 2014, for the November 2, 2013 shooting death

(Reuters) - A white suburban Detroit homeowner charged with second-degree murder for shooting an unarmed black woman on his front porch in November will have a new judge assigned to preside over his upcoming trial, a judge ruled on Friday.

Attorneys for Theodore Wafer, 55, had argued that Judge Qiana Lillard, who was appointed to the Wayne County Circuit Court last year after serving as an assistant prosecutor, should be replaced because of the appearance of possible bias.

Wafer is accused of killing Renisha McBride, 19, with a shotgun blast to the face in a racially charged case that sparked protests in Dearborn Heights, Michigan, and comparisons to the 2012 shooting death of unarmed Florida teenager Trayvon Martin.

Judge Timothy Kenny ruled a new judge should be assigned because a prosecutor handling the case had been listed as a part of Lillard's campaign committee and had sold tickets to a fundraiser on her behalf, a spokeswoman for the prosecutor's office said.

Lillard was sworn in as a judge in October and must run for election to remain on the bench. She was randomly assigned the case after another judge found sufficient evidence for Wafer to stand trial.

"The Wayne County Prosecutor's Office will not appeal the ruling of Judge Kenny," spokeswoman Maria Miller said. "We will request that the case be blind drawn to another judge."

Wafer is scheduled to stand trial June 2 on second-degree murder, manslaughter and felony firearms charges. His attorneys have said Wafer was afraid for his life and he accidentally shot the woman.

McBride had a blood alcohol level nearly three times the legal limit for driving in Michigan when she died and had crashed a car hours before, according to witnesses who testified for prosecutors at a hearing in December.

(Reporting by David Bailey in Minneapolis; Editing by Jon Herskovitz and Leslie Adler)

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