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Lawyer for man charged asks people not to rush to judgment on road rage case

Mike Martindale
The Detroit News

Howell — An attorney for a 69-year-old Marion Township man charged in what police have described as a road rage incident told reporters Tuesday there is “a lot more to this story.”

Martin E. Zale is charged with fatally shooting Derek Flemming, 43, of Brighton in the Sept. 2 incident. Zale appeared briefly before Howell 53rd District Judge Susan Ann Reader Tuesday and requested an adjournment to permit his attorney, Melissa Pearce, more time to work on his defense. The matter was adjourned until Oct. 7.

Zale is charged with open murder and two counts of felony firearm and discharge of a weapon from a vehicle in Flemming’s death. The shooting was witnessed by Flemming’s wife and several motorists, investigators said.

Pearce said she is considering self-defense — commonly referred to when a person stands his or her ground in anticipation of a deadly attack. Such a defense could be problematic; Zale was inside a closed vehicle and had an opportunity to drive away when approached by Flemming, who was on foot.

“The whole story has not been told,” Pearce told reporters but declined to provide additional details of the encounter. She also asked the public to keep an open mind regarding her client.

Pearce described Zale as a loving husband, father and “respected member of the community,” and said the action was totally out of character for him.

“They (Zale’s family) are completely shocked by this — it’s not of his character,” she said.

Pearce said reaction to the case has been “polarized” on social media and asked anyone who may have witnessed events to contact her.

“There is more to this story that will come out (in court),” said Pearce, adding she didn’t want to provide details for fear of “tainting a potential juror.”

Reader will ultimately decide if there is enough evidence to bind Zale over to stand trial on charges. Until then, Zale will be held in the Livingston County Jail without bond.

The official police version of events is Flemming was driving east on Grand River in his Ford Escape with his wife, Amy, about 3:30 p.m. when the incident occurred, police said.

According to Flemming’s wife, the two had lunch in nearby Howell and were en route to pick up their two children from their first day of school when they were followed by a 2012 Dodge Ram pickup, which was driving so recklessly they thought the vehicle was going to sideswipe or rear-end them.

The truck passed them about a mile outside Howell and swerved in front of their vehicle and came to a stop at a traffic light at Chilson Road. Amy Flemming has told police her husband got out of the Escape and walked up to the truck’s driver-side window, and when he asked if the driver “had a problem” was shot once.

Flemming fell to the pavement of the busy roadway as Zale immediately turned right onto Chilson and came to a stop, witnesses said.

It was unclear, according to Flemming’s attorney, William Moore, if Zale was blocked by other motorists or stopped voluntarily. Zale got out of his car near the intersection and stayed there until police arrived, staring at the ground, Moore said.

An autopsy determined Flemming died from a single gunshot wound to the head.

Zale has a license to legally carry a concealed weapon, police said.

mmartindale@detroitnews.com

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