Brennan Walker didn’t make the morning bus to school. He didn’t have his phone. And he wasn’t sure how to get to his high school.
Brennan needed help finding his way, and the home of Jeffrey Zeigler appeared to be just as good as any to seek neighborly guidance.
Zeigler answered with a shotgun blast.
Jurors on Tuesday watched video of the incident during Zeigler’s trial, which showed how close Brennan, then 14, may have come to a violent death on April 12 in Rochester Hills, Mich. On Friday, that jury found Zieger guilty of assault with intent to do great bodily harm, and possession of a firearm in commission of a felony, according to the Detroit Metro Times. Ziegler is due back in court Nov. 13 for sentencing, and could face up to 12 years of prison time.
Zeigler, a retired firefighter, had been charged with assault with intent to murder, which could have led to life in prison, Oakland County District Attorney Jessica R. Cooper told The Washington Post on Thursday.
A camera that appears to be on Zeigler’s porch captured the teenager, who is black, approaching the house wearing a backpack. Brennan testified Monday that Zeigler’s wife answered the door and immediately accused him of trying to break into the home, the Oakland Press News reported.
“I was scared. I was trying to tell them that I was trying to get to high school, but they weren’t listening,” Brennan testified.
Zeigler’s wife yelled, and Zeigler sprang out of bed, armed himself with a shotgun and ran out to the porch. Brennan, upon seeing the commotion, turned and ran from the house, the video shows.
Brennan was nearly out of the yard when Zeigler appeared, shirtless. He shouldered his shotgun and leveled the barrel in the teenager’s direction.
He fired a single shot, the video shows. Brennan was not injured.
Cooper declined further comment, citing the trial this week.
Zeigler’s attorney, Rob Morad, has said that race was not a factor in the shooting (Zeigler is white), and that his client and his wife were on “high alert” after five previous break-ins at their home. Zeigler “acted from passion instead of judgment,” Morad told jurors. He did not return a request for comment Thursday.
Zeigler has also claimed that he accidentally fired the shotgun after slipping. The video shows Zeigler pausing for a few beats before firing the gun. Oakland County Sheriff’s Deputy Jason Marshall testified he could not say definitively where Zeigler was aiming after reviewing the video, the Press News reported.
Shawn Pace, a detective with the sheriff’s office, testified Tuesday that he had been investigating the claims of a break-in and then watched the video. “I was shocked,” Pace said, according to the Press News. He watched it again, then became “charged up, because I was offended by what I had seen.”
Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard said soon after the incident: “It is just absurd that this happened. I feel terrible for the young man; I feel terrible for the mom and the anxiety that they had to go through.”
Brennan’s mother, Lisa Wright, said in April that she believed the reaction in the Zeigler household was racially motivated. She watched the video soon after the incident. “You can hear the wife say, ‘Why did these people choose my house?’ Who are ‘these people?’ " Wright said. “And that set me off. I didn’t want to believe it was what it appeared to look like. When I heard her say that, it was, like, but it is.”
Zeigler maintained that he believed Brennan was a threat. But Pace showed him the video and asked him to point out where the teenager had shown bad intentions.
Zeigler “took a big drink of water, he looked at me, and he said, ‘I’m tired of being a victim,' ” Pace testified.