Mrs. Fleming, 41, was sentenced by 115th District Judge Lauren Parish on a plea bargain and must serve the entire sentence, said Upshur County District Attorney Billy Byrd.
The defendant admitted shooting 45-year-old Joseph (Joe) Fleming once in the stomach with a .380 pistol at the family home the night of June 14, 2009, said Byrd. She turned herself in to the Gladewater Police Department before dawn the following day, he added.
Byrd said Friday he reduced the murder charge against Mrs. Fleming to a lesser felony because of her husband’s history of abusing her and because of the circumstances surrounding the shooting. Mr. Fleming, who was unarmed, was shot while threatening to kill her and their daughter, the district attorney said.
The victim’s own two brothers—both law enforcement officers in Arkansas—testified Friday the shooting resulted from him specifically threatening Melissa Fleming and one of the Flemings’ three children, said her attorney, Longview lawyer Jason Cassel.
The brothers testified they were familiar with Mr. Fleming abusing not only his wife, but others as well, physically and verbally, according to statements to The Mirror from Byrd and Cassel. And, Byrd said, the brothers additionally testified that Fleming would have been likely to carry out threats he made of killing his wife and the couple’s teen-age daughter, “based on what was taking place with that daughter.”
In addition, Byrd said, his office’s investigation revealed Fleming had committed an assault on his wife which led to his discharge from the U.S. Army 20 years ago.
Fleming was shot in a bedroom while “he was counting on his finger the number of bullets that were going to be necessary to carry out the threats he was making,” the district attorney said. The victim had communicated similar information to his two daughters on the phone earlier that day, Byrd noted.
He said Mrs. Fleming “used criminal negligence” in shooting her husband. “It’s not an accident, but it’s short of an intentional act,” Byrd said of the homicide.
On the night of the shooting, Byrd said, Joseph Fleming left the home about 6 p.m. and Mrs. Fleming phoned Longview police out of fear he was headed to their daughter’s workplace in that city. Police records confirmed they were dispatched to that location, the prosecutor said.
Fleming was shot in the period between about 10 to 11 p.m., Byrd said. Investigation revealed Mrs. Fleming then located all three of the couple’s children in Longview and Gladewater to tell them what she had done and why, he told The Mirror.
“She had left her children a note at the home” in case she couldn’t find them, Byrd added. She then turned herself in to police between 2:30 and 3 a.m. June 15, he said.
Byrd said the courtroom was “packed” with Mrs. Fleming’s supporters (which Cassel said included Joseph Fleming’s sister) at the sentencing, and all three of the defendant’s children (who have all graduated high school) had conveyed to him they “wished nothing at all would happen to their mom.”
But, Byrd said, he explained to the children that “there were some choices, actions she could have taken other than killing him,” and they were understanding of the plea bargain.
“Because of the action she chose, there had to be some consequences attached to it,” Byrd said. The crime to which Mrs. Fleming admitted is punishable by six months to two years confinement.
In discussing the plea bargain they reached, Byrd and Cassel each admitted they risked losing the case had it gone to trial. Both acknowledged Mrs. Fleming could have used a number of defenses.
Cassel said Friday his client had no prior criminal history— “not a lick” of prior trouble—and was a “model citizen.” He said he believed she will be an asset to the Gladewater community after serving her sentence.
“She was very emotional” during part of the proceedings, and afterward, when she said goodbye to her family for 18 months, Cassel said.
“She loves her husband, but she loves her family as well,” Cassel said, calling the plea bargain “a fair compromise.” He termed the matter “certainly a terrible situation.”