Jury of six to decide fate of former Bradenton police captain

rdymond@bradenton.comDecember 10, 2013 

Former Bradenton Police Capt. Thomas Fleming sits in court Dec. 9 at the Manatee County Judicial Center. Fleming will be sentenced Thursday for second-degree murder with a firearm in the death of his wife, Claire, on Oct. 1, 2012. TIFFANY TOMPKINS-CONDIE/Bradenton Herald

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MANATEE -- Six women and two men were chosen Monday to comprise a jury of six, with two alternates, who will decide the fate of former Bradenton police Capt. Thomas Fleming.

Fleming is charged with second-degree murder in the Oct. 1, 2012, shooting of his wife, Claire.

Opening statements in the trial will begin at 9 a.m. Tuesday in Courtroom 6A of the Manatee County Judicial Center, Judge Thomas Krug told his jury before sending them home Monday.

Although the state of Florida is not seeking the death penalty, the 69-year-old Fleming will spend at least 25 years in prison if convicted of second-degree murder with a gun due to mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines.

Several prospective jurors were excused because they said they could not stand to look at Claire Fleming's crime scene and autopsy photos. Several others were excused for health reasons,

Dressed in a dark gray suit coat and white dress shirt without a tie, the handcuffed Fleming shuffled slowly into the courtroom leaning heavily on a wooden cane in his right hand. During proceedings, Fleming sometimes appeared to close his eyes and drift away.

Fleming's private attorney, Walter Smith of Panama City, said his client has diabetes and must keep a bag of candy at the defense table in case his blood sugar drops.

"Physically, he has deteriorated," Smith said of Fleming during a break in the jury selection.

Smith said Fleming also has depression and post-trau

matic stress syndrome.

Fleming showed emotion only once Monday when Smith brought up the crime scene and autopsy photos.

Krug told jury candidates the photos, like all evidence, must be studied closely. One juror said she didn't know if she could look at the pictures without falling apart.

"I've never seen anything like that in real life," she said.

"I don't know if I can emotionally stand to do that," said another woman juror, who was later excused. "I'm like that other lady. I've never seen anything like that in real life. How bad will they be?"

Smith didn't detail what the photos would show. During this sensitive discussion, Fleming lowered his head and stared at the floor.

Jury candidates were also told Fleming may testify to tell his side of the story.

Two critical observers were in the courtroom Monday.

One was Lori Dorman, an attorney retained by Tom and Claire Fleming's adult son and daughter. The other was a friend of Claire Fleming, who did not wish to provide her name but described Claire as "a caring, compassionate, devoted mother and grandmother" who, as a lay Eucharist minister for St. Joseph's Catholic Church, "took communion to shut-ins and worked tirelessly in the food pantry."

Dorman said the children know what they want.

"They want to see him convicted of second-degree murder and given the maximum sentence," Dorman said. "What he did was horribly wrong. He knew it at the time. He knew what would happen after he did it. He was waiting to be arrested after he did it."

"Most everyone experiences difficult times in their lives," Dorman said when asked about Fleming's mental state. "They don't use it as an excuse to murder the person they are closest to."

Dorman also said Fleming's daughter and son-in-law will testify.

"Claire was a wonderful person," Dorman said. "She was the go-to girl for everyone. She was an amazing grandmother and super-involved in her church. She had countless photos with her three grandchildren. At her funeral, it was standing room only."

State prosecutor Art Brown said he will show Fleming should be charged with second-degree murder, which Florida law defines as a killing committed out of ill will, hatred, spite or evil.

Smith, a veteran defense attorney with an engaging manner, said Fleming should be charged with manslaughter because he killed his wife out of rage and anger -- not ill will, hatred, spite or evil.

"The guidelines for manslaughter call for a minimum of nine years and a maximum of 30 years, but the judge can go lower than nine years," Smith said. "That's what we are hoping for."

Brown told Krug the prosecution's case will be completed by late Wednesday morning.

Smith said the defense will rest its case by late Wednesday afternoon and the court can expect a verdict Wednesday night.

Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7072 or contact him via Twitter @ RichardDymond.

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