Ex-Bradenton police Capt. Thomas Fleming guilty of killing wife

Herald staff writersDecember 11, 2013 

BRADENTON — Retired Bradenton police Capt. Thomas Fleming was found guilty Wednesday of killing his wife last year. After about 3 1/2 hours deliberation following a two-day trial, the jury found Fleming guilty of second-degree murder for the Oct. 1, 2012, shooting death of his wife, Claire Fleming, in their Bradenton home.

A sentencing hearing has yet to be set. Fleming faces a minimum sentence of 25 years in prison to life. The state did not ask for the death sentence.

Testimony concluded Wednesday in the murder trial after the retired Bradenton police captain took the stand. Right after the shooting, and again from the stand, Fleming admitted killing Claire Fleming.

Fleming said he intended to commit suicide, in part because his marriage had become very difficult at times.

“I decided I was going to blow myself up in front of her,” Fleming said. “I walked in the bedroom and pointed the gun at my head. She turned around and she saw what I was doing, and she said go ahead. So I just pushed her and fired.” Lawyers delivered closing arguments to the jury Wednesday afternoon.

“He’s not a murderer,” said defense attorney Walter Smith. “Yeah, he killed someone, but he’s not a murderer.”

Assistant State Attorney Art Brown provided the jury with a more ominous assessment.

“This is the face of murder in Manatee County today,” Brown said.

During testimony, Fleming apologized for shooting his wife. “My wife is a saint,” Fleming said. “She’s the best thing I’ve ever had.”

Fleming was the final witness and the only one for the defense.

Fleming recounted his memories from the days leading up to his wife’s death during an hour-long stint on the stand. “I got mad and I just lost it,” Fleming said.

Fleming told the courtroom he had been contemplating killing himself for a month, leading to his wife’s death. It’s a decision he said he regrets.

“I loved my wife. I am so sorry for what I have done. We were one,” Fleming said.

During cross-examination, Brown asked Fleming: “Why are we here today?”

“That’s a really good question, I wish I would have taken the other bullet and finished it. Then we wouldn’t be here today,” Fleming said. Brown went on to question Fleming about statements he made to deputies following his arrest. “I was nutso. I did not know what was going on. I was nutso for about 30 hours,” Fleming said.

Fleming said 33 days after he killed his wife: “She appeared to me in apparition. We had a conversation.” During testimony, Fleming described a difficult marital relationship. The September before Claire’s murder, he spent time at their lake house in Lake Wales, Fleming testified.

Prosecutors also introduced a recording taken from a sheriff’s office patrol car after Fleming was arrested. Fleming seemed more concerned about his dog and the pain and discomfort handcuffs were causing him than the condition of his wife, according to the recording.

After he was placed in the back of Deputy Richard Brissette’s patrol car Oct. 1, 2012, Fleming asked: “Is my wife dead?” Almost immediately, Fleming started complaining about the discomfort being handcuffed and sitting in the back of patrol car caused him. “It’s not like I can run away,” Fleming said. Fleming also asked Brissette about his dog, who he said had about six months to live.

Fleming also asked Brissette if he knew about his background. “Do you know I am, a cop?” Fleming asked.

Later, Fleming can be heard on tape cursing his late wife. While testifying, Fleming apologized for the outburst. Under cross examination, Brissette testified Fleming also recited a Hail Mary (Catholic prayer) while sitting in the patrol car. Fleming testified he was reciting the rosary.

Fleming’s attorney tried once again to introduce evidence about his mental health. But Judge Thomas Krug again denied Smith’s motion, since his client was not using an insanity defense in the trial.

After Fleming finished testifying, Krug noted Fleming had at times violated the order by testifying about his mental state.

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