Driver guilty of murder in road rage

HOWELL (AP) - A 69-year-old man who said he fatally shot another driver in self-defense was convicted of murder last Thursday in a road rage case in southeastern Michigan.

The Livingston County jury considered first-degree murder, which carries a mandatory life sentence, but convicted Martin Zale of second-degree murder. He still could face a long prison term.

Derek Flemming, 43, was shot after he confronted Zale about aggressive driving near Howell last September. Zale told jurors that he felt threatened as he sat in his pickup truck at a traffic light.

He said Flemming reached into his truck and punched him, but many witnesses said they didn't see a punch.

"I was defending myself," Zale testified.

But assistant prosecutor Daniel Rose said Zale had "4,000 pounds of protection" - a Dodge Ram pickup. He said Zale should have kept the window up or driven away.

Jurors got the case last Tuesday. They asked to see Zale's truck last Wednesday and before going to lunch last Thursday, they sent a note to the judge asking for a definition of "premeditation."

County Prosecutor William Vailliencourt said his office was pleased with the verdict.

"Although nothing can bring Mr. Flemming back to his wife and children, we're grateful the jury held Mr. Zale responsible for his criminal actions," the prosecutor said, according to the Livingston Daily Press & Argus.

Defense lawyer Attorney Melissa Pearce told radio station WHMI-FM that she was shocked by the verdict but said that the jury did their duty. She said Zale's family is considering an appeal.

Zale bowed his head when the verdict was read.

"He was shocked," Pearce said. "We highlighted the fact he did feel in fear of great bodily harm or death, but my guess is the jury weighed the credibility and they decided whose story they believed over another. This is not who he is. This event does not define Mr. Zale."

Second-degree murder can carry any number of years in prison. Judge Miriam Cavanaugh will have much discretion on June 5.

Published: Mon, May 18, 2015