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Legal analyst: ‘Deeply troubled’ Fleming waged fatal battle to control relationship

Orville Fleming testified in Sacramento Superior Court this week that he was in a “zombie” state when he pulled a knife from the kitchen of the Elk Grove area home he shared with Sarah Douglas, before heading for their bedroom to stab Douglas.
Orville Fleming testified in Sacramento Superior Court this week that he was in a “zombie” state when he pulled a knife from the kitchen of the Elk Grove area home he shared with Sarah Douglas, before heading for their bedroom to stab Douglas. Sacramento Bee file

Orville Fleming, the former Cal Fire battalion chief on trial this week for murder in his girlfriend Sarah Douglas’ death in May 2014, testified he cannot remember moments during her killing. His attorney, Peter Kmeto, says Fleming had a form of amnesia.

But a longtime criminal defense attorney and analyst who observed the trial questioned both assertions and said the case appears to boil down to one man’s fatal struggle for control of a deeply flawed relationship.

Closing arguments in the case before Sacramento Superior Court Judge Sharon A. Lueras are scheduled for Monday.

Fleming testified he was in a “zombie” state when he pulled a knife from the kitchen of their Elk Grove area home and headed for their bedroom to stab Douglas but does not remember strangling her after – the “dissociative amnesia” that Kmeto claimed. The term means a person’s inability to remember events due to suffering a traumatic event.

“Dissociative disorder is rare and probably doesn’t exist, but (Kmeto) put it on the table. That’s all he had to do,” Daniel Horowitz, a criminal defense attorney and television legal analyst, based in Lafayette, said this week. Horowitz, in Sacramento Superior Court trying a murder case just doors away from where the Fleming trial is being held, was awaiting his jury’s verdict. “It’s not really a ‘zombie’ defense, it’s a defense of ‘I don’t remember.’ The defense is really an amnesia defense.”

On the witness stand, Fleming, 56, laid out the brief, tumultuous relationship with Douglas, 26, whom he met on the online escort site MyRedbook while still married. In opening statements, prosecuting attorney Noah Phillips said Fleming’s reality was “shaped by jealousy and distrust” of Douglas, while Kmeto and Fleming said Douglas was a drug and alcohol abuser prone to dramatic mood swings.

The dysfunctional pair forged a deal, Fleming testified. Douglas would quit drinking and stop using. Fleming would divorce his wife of 30 years and marry Douglas. They moved into a leased home on Elk Grove’s outskirts. He “allowed” her to have champagne and gave her a monthly allowance, he testified. Fleming testified that he thought he could make a difference in Douglas’ life.

“He let slip a few times (in testimony) his desire to be in control. There is narcissism and self-focus,” Horowitz said.

Months later, Douglas would be found dead.

“Ultimately, what (Douglas) needed to be is not with him, and that was before he killed her,” Horowitz said.

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