Murder trial set to begin for former Bradenton police captain

Thomas Fleming is charged in the 2012 shooting of his wife

jdeleon@bradenton.comDecember 8, 2013 


MANATEE -- A former Bradenton police captain is set to go on trial this week in the 2012 shooting of his wife.

Thomas Fleming, 69, is charged with second-degree murder with a firearm in the death of his wife, Claire Fleming. Jury selection will begin on Monday in a Manatee County courtroom before Judge Thomas Krug.

On Oct. 1, 2012, Manatee County Sheriff's Office deputies responded to the Fleming home in the 2300 block of 45th Court West after a 911 call reported someone had been shot, according to an arrest report.

When deputies arrived at the home, they reportedly found Fleming on the tail gate of his pick-up truck. Deputies said he told them they should just kill him.

Fleming's neighbor, who

called 911, told deputies that after hearing the gunshot, Thomas Fleming came out of the home and walked up to him and said, "I just shot my wife, I just shot Claire."

Fleming's defense attorney Walter Smith says Fleming has been found to be mentally ill.

"He doesn't meet the Florida standard for insanity at the time of the incident," Smith acknowledged. "My hands are tied by the rules of evidence."

Unlike many other states, Florida does not recognize diminished capacity in an insanity defense, according to Smith.

Fleming retired from the Bradenton Police Department in the 1980s and has been on mental disability ever since, Smith said.

"I think he has insight to what his issues are that he didn't have when he was arrested," Smith said. "He has had flashbacks to the homicide and, in the last 20 to 30 years, flashbacks to traumatic events that happened to him as a police officer."

Smith plans to defend Fleming saying that he killed his wife in the "heat of passion." This would lessen the charge to manslaughter.

"If he is to be convicted, then he is to be convicted of manslaughter, not second-degree murder," Smith said.

If Fleming is convicted, Smith's hope is for a lesser sentence with a 9 1/2- to 10-year minimum prison sentence, rather than the 25-year minimum.

"He will be 70 on Feb. 2," Smith said. "Just about any sentence could possibly be a life sentence. Our hope is to get him the least amount of time possible."

Fleming's struggled with mental illness for years but the stigma made treatment difficult. His wife of 44 years had endured a great deal as a result, according to Smith.

"She was at the point she thought she couldn't live with him anywhere," Smith said.

Jeff Hottman, who served on the force with Fleming, told the Herald last year he was shocked by the news.

"This is out of character for the Tom Fleming I knew," Hottman said at the time. "I just feel so sorry for the family."

Fleming is being held at Manatee County jail.

Jessica De Leon, law enforcement reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7049. You can follow her on Twitter @JDeLeon1012.

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