Shooter guilty of lesser charge

Rochester Hills home­owner who fired at teen con­victed of as­sault

The Detroit News - - News - BY MIKE MARTIN­DALE The De­troit News

Pon­tiac — In a case that at­tracted na­tional at­ten­tion and lo­cal out­rage, a white Rochester Hills home­owner was con­victed Fri­day for shoot­ing at a lost black teenager who showed up at his door seek­ing direc­tions to his school.

Jef­frey Zei­gler, 53, was found guilty by a jury in Oak­land County Cir­cuit Court of as­sault with in­tent to com­mit great bod­ily harm less than mur­der and pos­ses­sion of a firearm in the com­mis­sion of a felony in the April 12 in­ci­dent at his home in­volv­ing 14-year-old Bren­nan Walker.

He had been charged with as­sault with in­tent to com­mit mur­der, but Judge Wendy Potts gave ju­rors the op­tion of con­vict­ing Zei­gler on the lesser charge.

Zei­gler could get up to 10 years in prison for the as­sault con­vic­tion, plus a manda­tory two years for the firearm count. Potts re­voked his bond and or­dered him to jail pend­ing sen­tenc­ing Nov. 13.

Af­ter the ver­dict was an­nounced, Lisa Wright, Walker’s mother, was con­soled by sev­eral friends who es­corted her out a back door. She snif­fled and sobbed fre­quently dur­ing the trial, es­pe­cially when sur­veil­lance cam­era videos of her son were played for ju­rors.

De­fense at­tor­ney Rob Mo­rad said he and his client did not take much com­fort in ju­rors se­lect­ing the al­ter­nate, lesser of­fense.

“We don’t feel he did any­thing wrong and we don’t feel the pros­e­cu­tion proved any kind of in­tent,” said Mo­rad, who did not rule out an ap­peal. “You had a cou­ple who have had sev­eral break­ing and en­ter­ings and were fear­ful. His wife’s screams put things in mo­tion, but he loves her and was try­ing to pro­tect her. I ex­pect he wished he had done a lot of things dif­fer­ently.

“I know he wished he had never gone out­side his house that morn­ing.”

The in­ci­dent sparked ac­cu­sa­tions in the com­mu­nity that it was racially mo­ti­vated, with the Michi­gan chap­ter of the Coun­cil on Amer­i­can-Is­lamic Re­la­tions call­ing at the time for “ro­bust charges” against Zei­gler, sug­gest­ing the home­owner acted “due to racial bias.”

In clos­ing ar­gu­ments Fri­day morn­ing, as­sis­tant pros­e­cu­tor Kelly Collins told the jury ev­i­dence in­di­cates Walker, then a Rochester Hills High School fresh­man, was not in­jured but es­caped fa­tal in­jury only be­cause Zei­gler was un­able to im­me­di­ately fire his 12-gauge Moss­berg shot­gun since the safety was en­gaged, giv­ing Walker enough time to run for his life down the horse­shoe drive­way out­side Zei­gler’s home.

“There were choices made and choices have con­se­quences,” Collins told the jury. “... He told you of his past and his cre­den­tials and how he is an up­stand­ing cit­i­zen and home­owner who was bro­ken into be­fore ... and how he felt he and his wife were in dan­ger.

“He was the dan­ger on April 12.”

Dur­ing his clos­ing state­ment, Mo­rad, told ju­rors his client was fir­ing into the air, not to harm

any­one, and try­ing to pro­tect his wife. He noted the shot­gun had other rounds in it and Zei­gler only fired once and never chased af­ter Walker.

“If he wanted to kill him, he could have shot him on the porch,” Mo­rad said.

Zei­gler, who spent more than 24 years with the De­troit fire de­part­ment, tes­ti­fied things were “chaotic” that morn­ing around 8:15 a.m. when he awoke from a sound sleep to his wife’s screams that some­one was try­ing to break into their home at the front door. He ran down the stairs af­ter see­ing a man at the door and grabbed a loaded shot­gun he kept be­hind his of­fice door.

A home sur­veil­lance video cap­tured him step­ping out and point­ing the weapon at Walker run­ning down the drive­way, and then low­er­ing it when it didn’t fire and dis­en­gag­ing the safety, rais­ing it again and fir­ing off one round. Zei­gler tes­ti­fied he was at­tempt­ing to shoot off a “warn­ing shot” to the flee­ing man and any­one else who might have been try­ing to in­vade his home.

The video was mak­ing the rounds on so­cial me­dia Fri­day.

In early state­ments to po­lice, Zei­gler gave a dif­fer­ent ver­sion: that he had slipped on the porch and the shot­gun ac­ci­den­tally dis­charged. When con­fronted with his own video, Zei­gler took a drink of wa­ter and told Oak­land County De­tec­tive Shawn Pace, “I was tired of be­ing a vic­tim,” Pace tes­ti­fied this week.

Oak­land County deputies re­sponded to the break­ing and en­ter­ing as re­ported by Zei­gler’s wife to a 911 op­er­a­tor. They en­coun­tered a “shaken-up” and tear­ful Walker on a nearby street in the sub­di­vi­sion.

Walker told them he had missed his school bus and de­cided to try to walk to school, cut­ting through an un­fa­mil­iar sub­di­vi­sion when he be­came lost. He stopped at one address for direc­tions to the school, and be­com­ing con­fused a sec­ond time, stopped at the Zei­gler house.

The Zei­glers have lived in the house in the Chris­tian Hills sub­di­vi­sion for more than 13 years. There have been five break­ing and en­ter­ings or at­tempts, in­clud­ing one in which they were asleep in the home, Zei­gler said. A teenage neigh­bor was pros­e­cuted for three in­ci­dents in 2010.

Cit­i­zens have the right to pro­tect them­selves in their homes if they feel threat­ened by an in­truder try­ing to break in a door or win­dow. If a sus­pect is flee­ing and there is no dan­ger, shoot­ing at them is a charge­able of­fense.

“Noth­ing jus­ti­fies his ac­tions that morn­ing,” Collins told the jury.

Aileen Wing­blad / Oak­land Press via AP

Jef­frey Zei­gler could get up to 10 years for the as­sault con­vic­tion, plus two for the firearm count.

Aileen Wing­blad / Oak­land Press via AP

Lisa Wright, Bren­nan Walker’s mother, left, sobs Fri­day.

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