SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — A former California fire battalion chief was found guilty Wednesday of second-degree murder in the slaying of his girlfriend after his attorney argued during trial that the defendant blacked out during the attack and doesn't remember much of it.
The Sacramento County jury reached the verdict in the case against Orville Fleming one day after his 57th birthday. He faces a mandatory 15 years to life in prison when he is sentenced on July 31.
Fleming was charged with murder in May 2014 after 26-year-old Sarah June Douglas was found dead in their south Sacramento home.
His arrest triggered a months-long investigation into the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection's training academy that led to firings and demotions.
"He can't hurt nobody. I can go to my daughter's grave now and she can rest," said Douglas' mother, Trudy Werly, who threw her hands in the air and shouted "yes" as she exited the courtroom.
Fleming's attorney, Peter Kmeto, had argued that the defendant was guilty of the lesser crime of manslaughter, which would have carried a maximum sentence of 11 years in prison.
Kmeto said the killing was committed as an act of passion during a fight between Fleming and Douglas.
The second-degree murder conviction indicates the jury did not believe Fleming planned the killing.
Fleming testified that he and Douglas had a volatile relationship but planned to marry. He met Douglas over an online escort site and said he planned to divorce his wife of 30 years to be with her.
They argued late on the night of her death after she returned home from a night out at a Sacramento-area casino with her mother and sister.
Fleming said he "felt like a zombie" as he grabbed a knife to stab her and doesn't remember choking her with a bedsheet. A defense witness testified that Fleming may have suffered from a form of amnesia brought on by the trauma of the slaying.
Prosecutor Noah Phillips told jurors the slaying "was the work of a first-responder turned wicked."
Douglas' aunt, Trina Werly, said after the verdict that the family had sought a second-degree murder plea bargain but Fleming turned it down. She said the family did not believe his story of having blacked out during the slaying.
Fleming took off after the attack and wound up living outdoors in a brushy area near their home for 16 days while authorities conducted a wide-ranging manhunt. Fleming said he tried to kill himself three times after Douglas' death.
Fleming taught at the state forestry and fire protection training academy in Ione, 40 miles southeast of Sacramento.
His arrest triggered an investigation into claims of inappropriate behavior at the academy, and investigators uncovered employees drinking on duty, sharing sexually explicit photographs, using a state vehicle to visit prostitutes, sexually harassing a civilian at a bar, and cheating while competing for promotions.
Sixteen employees at the academy were fired, demoted or quit as a result.