Court affirms murder conviction in road rage case

Detroit News staff and wire reports

Howell — The Michigan Appeals Court upheld the murder conviction of a Livingston County man who killed another motorist during a road rage incident in 2014.

Martin Zale raised several issues on appeal, including jury instructions. But they were swept away by Judge Peter O’Connell. Two others on the three-judge panel agreed that the second-degree murder conviction should stand but didn’t join the seven-page opinion.

Derek Flemming, 43, was shot after he confronted Zale about aggressive driving near Howell. Zale told jurors he felt threatened as he sat in his pickup truck. He insists he fired in self-defense.

But the prosecutor said Zale should have kept the window up or simply driven away. He was 69 years old at the time.

Zale, now 71, isn’t eligible for parole until 2041.

Livingston County Circuit Judge Miriam Cavanaugh called the road rage incident “a shooting waiting to happen” when she sentenced Zale in June 2015 to 25-50 years in prison.

“You pose the worst kind of danger to our community ... not something that happens in the middle of the night,” said Cavanaugh, who exceeded sentencing guidelines of 15 to 25 years.

Flemming’s wife, Amy, in a victim impact statement before Zale’s sentence was announced, told Cavanaugh that as her husband lay dying she glanced at Zale’s face and saw “No remorse. No fear. No nothing.”

The damage from her husband’s death continues, Flemming said, as family and friends in the courtroom choked back tears during her statement.

“I suffer from PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) ... I fear driving. I can’t sleep,” she said. “My children are afraid when we are separated that they won’t ever see me again. ... I will never be healed. I will always hurt.”

Amy Flemming and her husband were on their way to pick up their children, ages, 5 and 7, from school about 3:30 p.m. Sept. 2, 2014, when the incident grew violent at a traffic light at Chilson in Genoa Township near downtown Howell.

Zale testified that he feared for his life when Flemming, 43, came to the driverside window and slapped the side of his truck then pushed his head and arms into the open window in what he believed was an effort to unlock the door and pull him out of the vehicle.

Cavanaugh said witness testimony noted how Zale not only looked for but seemed to provoke confrontation with motorists, driving on their bumpers, forcing them off the road. In an earlier incident in Livonia, he followed a driver he felt had cut him off in traffic into a restaurant parking lot and struck the man in the face before speeding away.