MUSKEGON, MI – A mother pleaded with the judge, asking for justice for her teen son who was killed in a Muskegon Heights shooting nearly four years ago.
Sharon Tyler received her closure Thursday morning, March 30, when her son’s killer, Rodney Amos Neal, was sentenced to prison for the 2019 killing of 18-year-old Derek Wade Peterson II.
A jury found Neal, 34, guilty last July of second-degree murder for shooting Peterson in the head as he sat in a vehicle on Sixth Street in Muskegon Heights on June 5, 2019. Neal and codefendant Darese Dakur Sanders shot at Peterson because they thought he had a cell phone related to a drug dealing business.
Tyler, wearing a gray hoodie with “Justice for Derek” displayed in blue lettering, delivered an emotional impact statement. Family and friends – and an inmate awaiting sentencing for an unrelated case – wept as Tyler detailed the impact she’s suffered as a mother.
“I’ve been riding a dark cloud for nearly four years,” she said. “I’m ready for the sun to shine. I feel nothing but sadness most of the time. My emotions go in every direction.”
The grieving mother described what she missed most about her son: Peterson’s smile; his warm voice; check-in calls with his mother; and mostly his “God-given good personality,” Tyler said.
“I keep trying to move forward with life because that’s what Derek would want,” she added.
Tyler finished her statement and started walking back to her seat when she was embraced with a long hug from a family member.
The case was plagued with delays and roadblocks since the start. Witnesses were hesitant to come forward with information as they feared for their safety. Neal and Sanders both fired multiple attorneys. The COVID-19 pandemic pushed things back too.
Neal was tried last May, but due to a shortage of jurors, it was declared a mistrial.
The prosecution, on Thursday, said the shooting wasn’t about the cell phone in question.
“It was about sending a message,” Muskegon County Chief Trial Attorney Matt Roberts said. “(Neal and Sanders) weren’t going to be disrespected.”
Neal, shackled in cuffs, took a moment to apologize to the Peterson family.
“No parent should have to endure losing a child to unexpected gun violence,” he said.
Neal then said he was innocent, made claims of another shooter and pointed to prosecutors using him as a scapegoat.
The judge wasn’t buying it.
“(Peterson’s) life was just in its prime. His life was taken – foolishly taken,” Smedley said.
Neal was sentenced to 65 to 100 years in prison for second-degree murder. For being the shooter, he received 10 to 50 years for a felon in possession of a firearm charge. He also netted two years for felony firearms.
Those seated in the courtroom shouted, “Yes! Yes!” and “Thank you,” moments after Smedley fashioned the sentence.
Neal did not receive credit for any time served – which was almost four years – because he was on parole for gun-related convictions at the time of the shooting. His sentences will run consecutive with any punishment he receives for violating parole.
Earlier this month, Sanders, one of three codefendants charged in the case, pleaded guilty to single counts of assault with intent to murder and felony firearms for his role in the shooting. He is scheduled to appear for sentencing on April 20.
A third codefendant, Dezonique Hunter, was charged with perjury for allegedly denying she was at the homicide scene. She was also charged with witness retaliation for an alleged physical assault on a witness to the crime.
A jury acquitted Hunter, 25, of both charges at trial last October.