SALEM — Jury selection got underway in Salem Superior Court Monday in the trial of a former Salem man charged with strangling his estranged wife to death in her apartment three years ago.
Douglas Steeves Jr., 53, is charged with first-degree murder in the death of Carmela Saunders, 48, on Aug. 2, 2016.
But Steeves and his attorney, Raymond Buso, hope to convince jurors that Steeves was acting in the "heat of passion," after answering a call from a man who had started seeing Saunders after the couple separated, and that he's guilty of no more than manslaughter.
Buso, who had also previously sought to dismiss the murder charge on the grounds that the strangulation was not done with malice or premeditation, quoted from an interview police conducted with Steeves after his arrest.
Steeves, who had gone to the police station to tell them he had just killed his wife — allegedly after updating his Facebook status to "widowed" and dropping off some clothing in Beverly — told detectives that he strangled his wife for "five or six minutes" while she had her finger in his mouth, according to a motion filed by Buso prior to the trial.
Saunders, who had been with Steeves since she was 14, had resumed using her maiden name after the separation.
Court papers revealed a troubled relationship, with prior allegations of domestic violence, followed by reconciliations.
In one restraining order application months before her death, Saunders told the court that Steeves had threatened, "I will take care of you. I don’t care what happens to me, but I will get you.”
Steeves was a member of a motorcycle club called "Broken Bones."
Shortly before she was killed, court papers say, Saunders, who was living in an apartment in Salem with the couple's daughter, had invited Steeves to stay with them so that he could shower and have a meal, after he was asked to leave a place in Peabody where he'd been staying.
While there, he allegedly answered a phone call and the male voice on the other end referred to him as "Binky," a pet name for Steeves that Saunders had tattooed on her leg. The man then told Steeves to "stay away from his girl."
Opening statements are expected Wednesday in the trial.
Courts reporter Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @SNJulieManganis.