SACRAMENTO (CBS13) — A former Cal Fire battalion chief was found guilty on Wednesday 419 days after the murder of his fiancee, a former escort, in her home.
In the nearly 14 months since the murder of Sarah Douglas, the investigation into Orville Fleming not only turned the spotlight on a man most thought was incapable of taking another person’s life, but also on the fire academy he lead.READ MORE: Closed Portion Of Highway 50 In El Dorado County To Reopen Tuesday
Fleming’s disappearance after the murder sparked a two-week manhunt stretching across the most remote areas in the state, but it all ended not far from where it all began.
During that search, questions arose over a possible sex tape and accusations of sexual encounters with escorts involving state-issued equipment. That investigation led to 16 state firefighters facing discipline.
Here is a look back on how it all unfolded.
May 1, 2014
Sarah Douglas, 26, was found murdered inside her home on Fox River Way in Sacramento County.
“The sheets were off the bed and my niece was face-down on the floor and there was a big fight. There’s a lot of blood everywhere and it looks like there was a sheet wrapped around her neck,” said Trina Werly, Douglas’ aunt. “She died horrifically; she died violently, and she didn’t have that coming. Nobody has that coming.”
The family and investigators suspected Douglas’ fiancée, 55-year-old Cal Fire Battalion Chief Orville “Moe” Fleming. He was recently assigned to the academy in Ione. He was a 24-year veteran of the agency. Fleming was a Madera city firefighter for three years before joining the state as a fire engineer when the city contracted with CalFire to provide fire protection in 1993, Berlant said. He was promoted to fire captain in 2001 and to battalion chief in 2012.
Fleming’s whereabouts were unknown.
May 2, 2014
Investigators tried to piece together what happened the day before as the search started for Fleming, who took off from the scene before authorities showed up. The Cal Fire truck he is suspected of driving was found abandoned on Apricot Woods Court in Elk Grove.
People CBS13 spoke to who knew Fleming say they were surprised to hear it was him, describing him as “positive and in a good mood and happy.”
May 3, 2014
The manhunt for Fleming continues and more details emerge about Douglas’ death. Family members say Sarah was on the phone with her sister on Wednesday night when she started yelling and screaming, and the phone went dead. Initially, her sister didn’t think much of it—the couple fought a lot and Sarah had already told Fleming she was leaving him.
May 6, 2014
Five days after Douglas’ murder, investigators worried Fleming had fled the state with tips stretching as far away as Oregon.
Investigators say their investigation revealed Fleming had contact with escorts he met through the now-defunct website MyRedbook.com. They are looking into the possibility that the escorts, people he met through the escorts, or other acquaintances helped him evade capture.
Investigators also revealed that Douglas and Fleming originally met through the site.
May 7, 2014
With few leads nearly a week after the murder, investigators turned their attention to remote areas in California Fleming may have had access to.
“All those things that we know, a survivalist or outdoorsman like we know he is can actually survive and hide much longer,” said Lisa Bowman Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department.
Fleming’s estranged wife Meagan Fleming also told authorities of a possible sex tape involving Fleming, Douglas and other firefighters on fire equipment.
May 8, 2014
After not turning up to work for a week after the death of Douglas, Fleming was officially fired by Cal Fire.
Investigators told CBS13 Fleming was likely getting help from someone, but how was he surviving on the run
“Well that has been the burning question for us as well,” Sacramento County Sheriff’s Det. Brian Meux said. “We know that much of the personal property that he owned has been accounted for.”
A former FBI profile stretched that possible search area even further, postulating Fleming was making a run for the border.
May 9, 2014
Two days after investigators pointed to remote areas Fleming may have access to as a battalion chief, Cal Fire said changing the locks to the hundreds of facilities and areas he had access to would be unrealistic.
May 16, 2014
It wasn’t Oregon. It wasn’t Mexico. It wasn’t Yosemite National Park.
Instead, investigators found Fleming at a bus stop in Elk Grove, not far from where he abandoned his Cal Fire truck after the murder. They said it was unlikely he’d left the area.
Fleming had shaved his mustache and changed his clothes but otherwise his appearance hadn’t changed. Deputies say he bought clothes at a thrift store. Because he paid with cash, there was no paper trail.
He was taken into custody without incident.
May 17, 2014
More details emerged about Fleming’s arrest.
Zack Clark, a worker in the shopping center near where Fleming was finally caught, watched as the murder suspect was detained the day before.
“He got off the bus right here and then he was actually sitting there for a couple minutes. Someone noticed him,” Clark said. “The officials came and he was actually going to walk across the street. I guess he noticed the officials coming towards him.”
Fleming denied all media interview requests.
May 19, 2014
Before Fleming made his first appearance in court, investigators painted a much different picture of Fleming that was far from cold and calculating. The Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department says it appears Fleming attempted suicide after the murder.
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Fleming made his first appearance. He was greeted by the glaring eyes of his alleged victim’s family before he spoke briefly to the judge.
Trading fire gear for a jail jumpsuit, he was walked into court looking relatively well-groomed after spending more than two weeks hiding out in the brush near where he was last seen.
Fleming confirmed to the judge who he was and said he could not afford an attorney. Meanwhile, the family of the alleged victim, Sarah Douglas, sat in court. At times her mother would hiss in his direction.
He did not enter a plea at this hearing, or one a week later.
May 30, 2014
With Fleming in custody, the California Highway Patrol turned its eyes to another investigation. The CHP announced it was investigating the allegations made by Fleming’s estranged wife of a sex tape, and other allegations of misconduct at the Ione fire academy where Fleming worked.
Oct. 20, 2014
More than four months after he was found, Fleming formally pleaded not guilty at a hearing.
At one point, CBS13 cameras captured Fleming winking at his attorney, drawing the ire of Douglas’ family who was in court for the hearing.
“He’s in here for a horrendous, horrendous crime and the last two court dates he winks,” Douglas’ aunt Trina Werly said.
“He controlled her. She had no job, no bank account, no phone, no transportation. Nothing. He trapped her,” Werly said. “You have no control now. You’re nothing. You’re in a cage.”
Dec. 16, 2014
Douglas’ family and Fleming faced each other at a hearing.
FALLOUT AT IONE FIRE ACADEMY
Dec. 29, 2014
The CHP’s investigation into allegations by Fleming’s estranged wife found no sex tape, but they found enough misconduct that Cal Fire placed 16 state firefighters on paid administrative leave.
The majority of the employees are or were full-time instructors at the Ione fire academy.
Jan. 21, 2015
The discipline from the investigation was formally disclosed—two state firefighters were fired, one resigned and 13 others faced discipline from the investigation into the Ione fire academy.
Feb. 20, 2015
More details emerged from the CHP investigation into the fire academy. A 14-page page report to the State Personnel Board linked Assistant Chief Mike Ramirez to sexual harassment, drinking on the job and viewing explicit pictures on a state-issued cellphone.
In April 2012, Cal Fire found Ramirez drank on duty with subordinates during a firefighter graduation ceremony. Two years later in April 2014, an interrogation revealed he lied about seeing Fleming slap a female fire captain on the butt during a training exercise.
Ramirez’s attorney said he was appealing his termination.
March 2, 2015
Under a Public Records Act request, the Associated Press found Assistant Chief Scott Henry was demoted to battalion chief for using his state cellphone to make appointments with escorts for sex on three occasions in 2013, and for viewing adult websites. He also used his state vehicle as many as a dozen times to drive to a hotel to meet escorts, the department said.
The report also said firefighter Timothy Edgmon was fired after he made sexual advances to a woman at a bar that included trying to grind his hips into her and exposing himself, all after identifying himself as a firefighter. He followed her outside and only stopped after the woman’s friend yelled at him, according to the disciplinary report.
June 15, 2015
Fleming’s attorneys began their defense by going after Douglas’ character in an attempt to show Fleming in a better light. The attorney told the jury Douglas was a common prostitute who abused drugs and alcohol.
The defense also revealed its plan of attack—saying Fleming doesn’t remember the attack in hopes of being found guilty of a lesser charge.
Cameras were not allowed in the courtroom for most of the trial
June 16, 2015
Fleming took the stand and admitted he stabbed Douglas to death as he shared what happened the night of her death.
Fleming said Douglas would often use drugs, scream at him and belittle him. On one occasion, he went into the kitchen, got a knife, pinned her down on a bed, stabbed her and strangled her.
He says he remembers nothing after, saying “I felt like a zombie.” and “This was a woman I was going to marry in three months and I killed her.”
Fleming testified while he was on the run, he tried to kill himself three times, but couldn’t go through with it.
June 17, 2015
Prosecutors cross-examined Fleming the day after his admission, and he remained adamant he couldn’t remember the details of what happened. They played part of his confession to detectives from his arrest where he said. “She said I didn’t have the balls, ‘You’re a piece of s—, and I stabbed her.”
June 22, 2015
This was the first day cameras were allowed in the courtroom. Fleming’s attorneys reiterated he was likely in a disassociated state when he killed Douglas, while prosecutors said Fleming had enough time to realize what he was doing to be found guilty of first-degree murder.
After closing arguments, there were three likely options for the jury, all of them ending with Fleming’s guilt. Fleming would probably be found guilty manslaughter or first-degree or second-degree murder.
June 24, 2015
Fleming was found guilty of second-degree murder. he faces a minimum of 16 years in prison. His sentencing is set for July 31.
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Fleming was sentenced to 16 years to life in prison.