Convicted murderer Thomas Fleming attempts suicide in Manatee jail

jdeleon@bradenton.comDecember 13, 2013 

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Retired Bradenton Police Capt. Thomas Fleming took the stand Wednesday. James A. Jones Jr./Bradenton Herald

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MANATEE -- Retired Bradenton police Capt. Thomas Fleming, convicted Wednesday of killing his wife, attempted suicide less than one day later.

Fleming, 69, was convicted of second-degree murder with a firearm Wednesday afternoon for killing his wife in their Bradenton home. Claire Fleming was shot to death Oct. 1, 2012.

At 8:10 a.m. Thursday, Fleming jumped from the second tier of the jail to the first-tier floor, a drop of about 15 feet, according to the Manatee County Sheriff's Office. His injuries are not life-threatening. It is unknown how long he will be hospitalized.

He was taken to Bayfront Medical Center in St. Petersburg, according to his attorney Walter Smith.

"In a way, I'm not surprised. I am kind of surprised he did it so soon," Smith said. "He had a lot of false hope things would go better."

Fleming took the stand at his trial Wednesday and said he planned on killing himself the day he shot his wife. The couple had been experiencing marital troubles, and when he walked into their bedroom pointing a gun at his own head, he said she encouraged him to do it. He testified he lost control and shot her instead.

Fleming was not on suicide watch at Manatee County jail, where he was being held until sentencing at a date to be determined.

"But he will be now," Manatee County Sheriff's Office spokesman Dave Bristow said.

Fleming faces a sentence of 25 years to life in prison.

At this point, Smith said any sentence is a life sentence, due to Fleming's age.

"Tom Fleming's own hope was to get convicted of manslaughter and that the judge would be lenient in sentencing," Smith said. "He had hope one day he could live his last years at the lake house" in Lake Wales.

It is unclear if Fleming will be held at the hospital for observation or returned immediately to the jail, Bristow said.

Smith's office was notified of the suicide attempt by Fleming's son, Shawn Fleming, but no other details of his condition or mental state were not known.

"He kind of had told me if this goes the wrong way, I don't want to die in prison," Smith said.

Smith believes the suicide attempt was a result of a combination of mental illness, remorse and regret.

"He feels totally abandoned," Smith said.

Family members present at the trial all sat on the prosecution side of the courtroom, and no one testified on his behalf during the trial, making matters worse for Fleming, according to Smith.

The family refused to speak to the media after the verdict was announced.

Those who did testify for the prosecution, however, detailed troubles between Fleming and his wife of more than 40 years by characterizing him as controlling and unwilling to seek counseling.

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

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