As family members of his slain girlfriend muttered in disgust in the courtroom audience, former Cal Fire battalion chief Orville “Moe” Fleming pleaded not guilty Monday in the May 1 stabbing and strangulation death of 26-year-old Sarah Douglas.
Fleming, who next faces a preliminary hearing scheduled for Dec. 16 in Sacramento Superior Court, entered the plea to the single murder count despite earlier statements by Sheriff Scott Jones that Fleming had given detectives a full statement in the slaying and “admitted culpability in the stabbing.”
Fleming has been held without bail since his capture in May after he hid out under dense foliage in south Sacramento County for 16 days following Douglas’ slaying.
His brief court hearing Monday elicited quiet groans of disgust from the dozen or so Douglas family members and supporters in the audience, many of whom wore “Justice for Sarah” T-shirts with her photo emblazoned on them. Fleming appeared in the court’s steel arraignment cage sporting a mustache to replace the one he shaved off while he was a fugitive.
The hearing ended with Fleming winking at his attorney, Peter Kmeto, and afterward Douglas’ mother told reporters in the courthouse hallway that Fleming exerted complete control over her daughter while she lived with him.
Trudie Werly said her daughter had not known initially that Fleming was still married when she became involved with him, and that she was a victim of domestic violence.
“All we can do is hope for justice,” Werly said. “He can spend the rest of his life in prison.”
The case generated widespread attention, partly because of the massive manhunt launched after Douglas’ body was found and partly because of the tawdry allegations leveled by Fleming’s estranged wife that she had seen a videotape of Douglas, a former escort, having sex with firefighters on fire trucks. Other allegations included claims that Fleming and other firefighters had sex with prostitutes at the Ione Fire Academy.
Sacramento sheriff’s Detective Brian Meux said that after Fleming was captured, he indicated that no such tape existed. But because of the nature of the allegations, Cal Fire officials asked the California Highway Patrol to investigate the claims, and Cal Fire spokesman Daniel Berlant said in an email Monday that the probe has not yet been completed.
Fleming, 56, was fired from his $130,000-a-year battalion chief job on May 8, after he stopped showing up for work for five days in a row. At the time, he was hiding from authorities and the subject of a widespread manhunt.
He was captured when he ventured out from his hiding spot and boarded a bus to look for food, and despite concerns that he was armed and possibly dangerous, he gave up meekly, authorities have said.
Court documents indicate that Douglas was killed inside the south area home she shared with Fleming after returning home just before midnight on April 30 from a trip to a casino with her sister and mother.
Douglas called her sister a short time later, and the sister subsequently heard arguing and then a scream, court documents indicate. The sister found Douglas dead the next morning in the blood-spattered home with a bed sheet tied around her neck.
Call The Bee’s Sam Stanton, (916) 321-1091.