Court hears appeal from former Bradenton police captain convicted of killing wife
The Second District Court of Appeals heard oral arguments Tuesday in the appeal of former Bradenton police Capt. Thomas Fleming's murder conviction for the death of his wife in 2012.
Fleming, 71, was convicted of second-degree murder with a firearm Dec. 11, 2013, for shooting his wife, Claire Fleming, to death in their Bradenton home Oct. 1, 2012. On Dec. 26, 2013, a judge sentenced him to life in prison.
Fleming is appealing his conviction and requesting a new trial because of the exclusion of evidence at trial on his mental and emotional state.
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"While courts have discretion in admitting state of mind and emotional evidence to rebut the element of intent, Fleming was prevented from presenting his defense theory: In a moment of heated passion, he was overcome and impelled by a blind and unreasoning fury to redress his imagined injury, his wife's callous remark, and while being anxious, depressed and suicidal, he fired the fatal shots," state-appointed public defender Benedict P. Kuehne wrote in a brief.
Circuit Judge Thomas Krug ruled during trial evidence of depression or post-traumatic distress disorder was irrelevant since Fleming was not using a insanity defense. The heat-of-passion defense had to be proven based on how a reasonable person would react.
The state position is the trial court didn't exclude the evidence in error because Fleming did not use an insanity defense nor did his defense use any experts at trial to prove mental illness.
On Wednesday morning in Tampa, a Second District Court of Appeals panel made up of judges Samuel Salario Jr., Patricia Kelly and Douglas Wallace heard oral arguments in Fleming's case.
"The case began with the defense proffering that the reason this happen is because Mr. Fleming snapped," Kuehne argued. "After 45 years of marriage, the marriage was on the rocks."
Fleming and his wife were religious so they didn't believe in divorce, but they were separating, he added.
"Mr. Fleming was contemplating suicide," he said. "When his wife said, just do it, he snapped and killed her."
Alternately, the defense asked the judges to vacate the conviction and rule on the lesser manslaughter charge based on the heat-of-passion defense. Assistant Attorney General Jason Miller said the trial court ruled correctly and the conviction should be affirmed.
"There is nothing in a lay person's understanding of depression that would not allow them to control their actions," Miller said. "It would require a medical expert. I think it speaks volumes that there isn't an expert in this case."
Fleming admitted -- on the day of the slaying and at trial -- he had killed his wife.
"I decided I was going to blow myself up in front of her," Fleming testified. "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."
Fleming attempted suicide Dec. 12, 2013, just hours after being convicted of murder. He jumped from a second-floor tier to the first floor in the Manatee County jail, breaking his hip.
Jessica De Leon, Herald law enforcement reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7049. You can follow her on Twitter@JDeLeon1012.