BRADENTON — Former Bradenton police Captain Thomas Fleming was sentenced to life in prison Thursday for the 2012 murder of his wife.
Fleming, 69, was convicted earlier this month of second-degree murder with a firearm for shooting his wife, Claire Fleming, to death in their Bradenton home on Oct. 1, 2012.
“I believe the crime you committed and the manner in which you did it is especially heinous and despicable,” Manatee County Judge Thomas Krug said. “It is not a crime by which one should walk among free society.”
In addition to life in prison with a minimum of 25 years mandated by state statue, Krug also ordered that Fleming pay restitution.
“Although it is very commendable to have had a marriage that lasted 45 years,” Krug said. “Behind your closed doors, you were the controlling dictator.”
Son Shawn Fleming, who sat in the audience throughout the trial, testified in Thursday’s hearing.
“I have psychological problems,” he said. “I love my father but I hate my father.”
The younger Fleming testified the affect that his father murdering his mother has had on him, including being committed in a New York hospital psychiatric ward for several days.
“She served him hand and foot and was so good to him, I just don’t understand, it doesn’t make sense,” he said. His message to his father: “You don’t deserve your freedom, it’s just not right.”
Fleming addressed the court.
“There is nothing I can say that will come close to what is necessary,” Fleming said. “Claire and I had a lot of secrets.”
He went on to say that his wife had psychological issues, and was at times delusional. His son, meanwhile, sat in the audience shaking his head in disbelief.
“I am not using that as an excuse, but it helped drive what happened,” Fleming said. “I loved my wife very much, and I know she loved me.”
Fleming told the courtroom about an experience he had in jail 33 days after being arrested, in which he believes his wife appeared to him asking for his forgiveness.
“I don’t think it’s fair because my wife and I will be together in the future,” Fleming said.
Fleming attempted suicide on Dec. 12, just hours after being convicted of murder. He jumped a second floor tier to the first floor in the Manatee County jail, breaking his hip.
Former Bradenton City Councilman Patrick Guinan and former Bradenton Herald Editorial Editor David Klement testified on Fleming’s behalf. Both men gave accounts of how the once third in command at the Bradenton Police Department was ousted and later won a court battle in which he had his job returned but was shunned until he chose to retire.
“It destroyed him. The Tom Fleming I knew was never the same again,” Guinan said. “He was never the same, he was a broken man.”
Fleming was fired for disclosing the things he saw that were wrong at the police department, much of which was corrupt, according to Guinan.
“This was a very sad and tragic situation where I have lost two friends,” he said. “My only plea, your honor, is if you can give him some hope, I know there is a man there that has been destroyed.”
The former councilman said what Fleming did was unlike the man he had known for 35 years.
“His account was that he was ordered to do dirty tricks to get the union ranked people in trouble,” Klement said. “People perceived him to have integrity and to be a stand-up cop.”
Klement said that he was not testifying to justify what Fleming had done, but wanted to get on the record that he was a good, family man.
“Words that exist for you are a jealous, rage and murderer is the description I would apply to you,” Krug said.
Jessica De Leon, law enforcement reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7049.