HAYWARD -- A jury on Thursday found Cort Holbrook, a Livermore software engineer, guilty of voluntary manslaughter in the road-rage killing of Ricky Ziesmer of Fremont.
Holbrook, who maintained that he stabbed Ziesmer in self-defense during a 2011 parking lot fight in Livermore, was initially charged with second-degree murder. The verdict came after eight days of trial and two days of jury deliberations in Judge Kevin Murphy's courtroom at the Hayward Hall of Justice.
The families of Holbrook and Ziesmer were teary following the announcement of the verdict, a halfway point between the result sought by each side. Holbrook's wife, Tamara, lay her head on her son's shoulder as she sat closely with her children and mother-in-law. Her husband sat motionless as a court clerk read aloud the jury's decision.
A second-degree murder sentence, which the prosecution had sought, carries a mandatory sentence of 15 years to life in prison. A self-defense verdict, which the defense fought for, carries no criminal punishment.
Holbrook, 42, faces a minimum of four years and a maximum of 12 years in prison for his voluntary manslaughter conviction, with credit for the two years he has already served. He has been locked up at Santa Rita Jail on $3 million bail since he was charged with murdering Ziesmer's in March 2011.
"He got away with it," said Ziesmer's brother-in-law, Steve Hill, of Fremont. "I'm fearful for the safety of the public. (Holbrook) is a friend to everyone he knows, but when he doesn't know them he has another side. I fear someone running up against him again."
Holbrook's family declined a request for comment.
Holbrook was convicted almost two years to the day after the road-rage incident, where he yelled an expletive out his open window at an erratically driving Ziesmer. When Holbrook pulled into a parking lot to call 911, Ziesmer confronted him, punching him twice in the head, sending his glasses flying and knocking him cold to the ground. Holbrook then came back at his aggressor, stabbing him in the chest and puncturing both his lungs and heart. Ziesmer, 48, died while undergoing emergency surgery.
"If this trial doesn't teach us anything, it should teach us manners on the road," Holbrook's attorney Timothy Rien said in closing statements Tuesday. "This is what I characterize as the nightmare of unintended consequences. No one is going to look at a bad driver the same way again."