A MAN stabbed his love rival to death minutes after his girlfriend sent him a picture of herself performing a sex act on the other person, a court heard today.

David Jeet Saunders is said to have been driven into a "jealous rage" when Sarah Bramley sent him a photograph of her with 34-year-old Michael Lawson.

Saunders drove to the street near Miss Bramley's home in Darlington and lay in wait for Mr Lawson, attacking him with a knife which he used to deliver a single fatal blow, it is claimed.

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He admitted a charge of murder at Teesside Crown Court on Monday, but faces a mini-trial in front of a judge because he disputes aspects of the Crown's case.

Prosecutor Nick Dry said both men had been in an ongoing on-off relationship with Miss Bramley, but on the night of the killing Mr Lawson was the one at her home.

Judge Stephen Ashurst is tasked to determine the "culpability" of Saunders and whether he took the knife to the scene or if he got it while disarming Mr Lawson.

Mr Dry said: "By the end of June this year both men retained an interest in her [Miss Bramley] and she in them, but there was no formal relationship with either.

"This led to jealousy on the part of Saunders upon seeing her driving Mr Lawson's car, and he began to send her abusive text messages and made repeated threats of violence within them against Mr Lawson.

"Sarah Bramley was responding in kind, there were messages passing between them but nothing from Michael Lawson who was in her company."

He added that just after 2.30am on the day of the attack, Miss Bramley sent Saunders an image of herself performing a sex act upon Mr Lawson.

"Within a short time, the defendant ordered a taxi and travelled to her address, which is a five-minute car journey," he said.

"The prosecution case is that at that time he was armed with a knife."
Saunders, 33, of Esk Road, Darlington, has pleaded guilty to murder on the basis that he did not take the weapon to the scene and is facing a trial of issue in front of the judge only.

Mr Dry said: "It is the Crown's case that the defendant travelled down armed and in a jealous rage to make good the threats he had issued.

"CCTV supports that contention as opposed to his claim that he only intended to damage Mr Lawson's car and happened upon him by accident."

Mr Dry said that CCTV footage which will be played to the court shows Mr Lawson walking home at 3.50am and Saunders following behind him for a short distance

He said: "The defendant got ahead of Mr Lawson and lay in wait for him on Geneva Road."

Mr Lawson is seen running away from Saunders but trips and is then set upon with punches and kicks.

Mr Dry said: "The defendant is seen to strike a blow against him, which is accepted as being the fatal blow, the defendant now being in possession of a knife."

Saunders told of his anger at being sent the explicit photograph, and said he forwarded it to his friend who had been at Ms Bramley's house along with Mr Lawson.

Saunders said that morning, June 30, Ms Bramley sent him a text to say she had been sleeping with Mr Lawson.

He said: "I saw his car outside her house and went in through the door. He ran out of the back then I heard his car start. I ran out and punched out a window of his car and kicked off his wing mirror."

During the furious text message exchange between him and Miss Bramley on the night and early morning of the killing, he threatened Mr Lawson.

He texted her saying: "I'm coming over, I'm going to knock f*** out of him, watch." and later "You'll see angry. Keep him there."

However, Saunders said he did not take a knife with him when he went to Miss Bramley's home, insisting it was Mr Lawson who had it, and confronted him in the street.

He told the court: "I saw something in his hand, I saw it was a knife in his right hand. I kicked the bottom of his wrist. I chased him, he slipped on the grass. I kicked out at him I flung my arm out and stabbed him with the knife I had taken from him.

"I stabbed him but I didn't intend to kill him."

The hearing continues.