Man Jailed For Murdering Love Rival In Darlington
7 December 2017, 17:00 | Updated: 8 December 2017, 10:10
A career criminal who murdered his love rival in Darlington after his ex-girlfriend sent him a sexual photo of the pair will serve more than 22 years behind bars.
Jealous David Jeet Saunders, 33, stalked Michael Lawson before launching a surprise attack and stabbing him once in the heart as he walked home from girlfriend Sarah Bramley's home.
Saunders and Ms Bramley had been involved in a furious exchange of nasty text and Facebook messages in the hours before the killer struck, Teesside Crown Court heard.
Saunders was jailed for life with a minimum term of at least 22 and a half years for the murder, which he admitted.
He had tried to minimise his guilt by claiming he did not bring the knife to the scene and did not intend to kill Mr Lawson, a hard-working father-of-one, but Judge Stephen Ashurst found against him.
The judge did accept that there had been provocation in the form of Ms Bramley's messages in the run-up to the murder in the early hours of July 1.
Saunders started a relationship with Ms Bramley in November 2016 but they split up more than once and eventually separated in April.
The killer blamed the break-up on her relationship with Mr Lawson and after he vandalised his rival's car he was officially warned by the police to keep away.
Saunders went on to smash a paving block through Mr Lawson's downstairs window.
The day before the murder, Ms Bramley told Saunders she had sex with Mr Lawson, sparking a series of offensive messages between them over several hours.
Ms Bramley told Saunders Mr Lawson was twice his size, adding "Davie Saunders might actually get a bat (battering)."
Saunders then threatened Mr Lawson in a text to his ex, saying: "The bigger they are, the harder they fall. "If you cannot beat them with your fists, use a weapon, hahaha."
Judge Ashurst said Saunders, who had drunk six cans of lager and snorted four lines of cocaine, was "spoiling for a fight".
In a further exchange, she told Saunders: "Why can't you accept I don't want you?" He replied: "I don't want you, you sket, you are rotten. I want him, he's getting it."
Saunders told another friend in a message he was "boiling" but she was not "worth it".
But then Saunders sent the female friend, who was at Ms Bramley's home, an intimate photo of his ex.
Ms Bramley then sent him a photograph of her performing oral sex on Mr Lawson, prompting the judge to say:
"I am absolutely sure that image was sent by her to wind you up."
"She no doubt succeeded for in a few minutes you arranged for a taxi to drive you over to the other side of Darlington, to Sarah Bramley's house."
Saunders has more than 60 offences on his record, including wounding and carrying a weapon in public.
The gaping wound he inflicted was 9mm high by 23mm wide and penetrated 95mm into his victim's heart.
Mr Lawson was dead within an hour from catastrophic internal bleeding.
Peter Doyle QC, defending, said the texts were "persistent, crude and inflammatory".
He said: "We submit, but for this constant exchange of text messages, culminating as they did in the explicit photograph, that it is quite possible that this fatal encounter may not have occurred and that really is a tragedy of enormous proportions in this case."
Mr Doyle said it was for others to look to their conscience and to consider how their actions contributed to what happened.
The judge told the defendant: "Jealousy was very much at the heart of your behaviour."
Speaking about the vicious texts, the judge said: "They do you and they do Sarah Bramley no credit whatsoever because ultimately a life was needlessly lost because of a loss of control."
Outside court, Mr Lawson's devastated family said in a statement: "The outcome of today ultimately changes nothing for our family.
"Nothing will bring Michael back or takeaway the pain of his loss.
"His son will always be missing his daddy.
"However, we needed justice for him and though today the murderer has been brought to justice the instigator has not.
"The trial has only confirmed what we knew - Michael was an innocent victim."