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NC Supreme Court upholds conviction of driver in fatal crash

The North Carolina Supreme Court has upheld a state appeals court ruling that affirmed the second-degree murder conviction of the driver in a crash that killed an East Henderson High School senior, District Attorney Greg Newman announced.

A Henderson County Superior Court jury found Matthew Joseph Schmieder guilty for his role in the death of 17 -year-old Derek Miller on Kanuga Road on Dec. 22, 2016. Judge Julia Lynn Gullett sentenced Schmieder to 16 years and nine months in prison.

Witnesses observed Schmieder driving between 55-60 miles per hour while illegally passing several cars on the double yellow lined Kanuga Road, according to trial testimony. He struck Miller’s pick-up truck head on and also struck a second vehicle. Miller was wearing his seat belt. The impact of the crash caused Henderson County EMS paramedics to pronounce him dead at the scene. Schmieder was badly injured and taken by air to the hospital. He had been consuming alcohol, but his blood alcohol level at the time of the crash could not be accurately determined. He was driving, however, on a suspended driver’s license at the time of the wreck and the district attorney argued that this evidence alone was sufficient to show malice.

“This case is a published case which means that it will be used in future cases as legal precedent in North Carolina,” Newman said. “The Court of Appeals has decided that evidence of a suspended driver’s license at the time of a fatal crash is sufficient to support the element of malice for second-degree murder charges. This decision will be used as legal authority throughout the state in cases where the evidence of intoxication may be lacking, but the driving record shows a disregard for the rules. While I am glad both the Court of Appeals and Supreme Court supported our position in the trial, my thoughts still go to the Miller family who have suffered an unspeakable loss."

The Court of Appeals decision affirming the conviction was filed in April of this year. A request was then made to have the Supreme Court review the appellate court ruling. The Supreme Court recently dismissed the request, thereby leaving the Court of Appeal’s decision in place. Schmieder will have to serve his sentence and is eligible for release upon serving 13 years and one month.