The most bitter irony, the prosecution said Monday, was that Orville Fleming was exactly the type of person Sarah Douglas needed as she fought for her life: a career firefighter trained to help people, sworn to protect lives.
Instead, under Fleming’s bloody attack, Douglas never stood a chance, said Sacramento County prosecutor Noah Phillips. She was 26.
“What a terrible way to die,” Phillips said in his closing argument at Fleming’s murder trial in Sacramento Superior Court. “This was the work of a first-responder turned wicked.”
A jury later Monday began deciding the fate of Fleming, the onetime Cal Fire battalion chief who killed his girlfriend May 1, 2014, in the bedroom of a home they shared near Elk Grove. Judge Sharon A. Lueras is presiding over the case.
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Did Fleming murder Douglas when he stabbed and strangled her to death, exerting a final, fatal measure of power and control over her, as Phillips alleged Monday? Or did he kill her in the heat of passion – manslaughter committed by a man pushed over the brink by a woman who relentlessly provoked him, as his lawyer suggested?
Defense attorney Peter Kmeto depicted Fleming as a dedicated public servant “who came to people’s aid time and time again,” and loved Douglas, but could not abide her alleged drug and alcohol abuse. He argued for a manslaughter verdict, saying a final barrage of profane insults by text, at their home and, finally, in the bedroom in the moments before Douglas’ death, pushed Fleming to violence. Kmeto implored the jury at one point to “listen to the mouth on that gal.”
Douglas was stabbed 14 times, including the fatal wound, and strangled with a bedsheet, Phillips said.
“Sarah texted the very words that … drove (Fleming) into a heat of passion,” Kmeto said. “Was he provoked? Yes. Was he provoked by Sarah? Yes. She starts a tirade of things – listen to the mouth on that gal. She was provoking him that night,” Kmeto said. He said the nature of the attack shows the work of someone driven by passion, not someone who was a cold-blooded killer.
“Do you stab her 14 times, or do you slit her throat?” Kmeto asked jurors.
The defense attorney argued that the latter is “what cold, calculated killers do. They kill, and they kill efficiently.” In contrast, Kmeto said, “This was a terrible mess.”
But prosecutor Phillips said power and control, not provocation, led Fleming to murder Douglas last May.
“With power and control, malice and a knife, he went to the bedroom. She didn’t see it coming,” Phillips said. “The ultimate form of control is controlling the destiny of a loved one. That’s exactly what he did when he took a life.”
Phillips said the couple’s brief but volatile relationship was often marred by outsized shouting matches and hurled insults. Their last argument erupted after Douglas returned home from a trip to Red Hawk Casino near Placerville.
Phillips said Douglas had “not a drop of alcohol in her system, not a trace of drugs” at the time of her death. Douglas’ sister, Stephanie Douglas, testified last week that Sarah was eager to return home to Fleming.
“She was biding her time until she could get back to him,” Phillips said Monday. “That was her crime that night.”
Phillips said the shouting lasted no more than 12 minutes before Fleming fatally attacked Douglas.
A man trained his entire professional life to make “cold, calculated decisions” in order to protect lives and property, made another that ended one life and forever changed his, the prosecutor said.
To do that, Phillips said, Fleming “had to literally look at the firefighter inside him and show him the door.”