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Two get prison terms in slaying of veteran in burglary

Two Philadelphia men received long prison sentences Monday after they pleaded guilty to fatally shooting an 80-year-old man during a burglary at his Southwest Philadelphia home in which they stole a laptop.

Common Pleas Court Judge Rose Marie DeFino-Nastasi sentenced Sean Johnson, 20, to 35 to 70 years in prison, and Aaron Pitts, 22, to 20 to 40 years.

A jury was about to be chosen Monday for the two men's trial. Instead, the pair pleaded guilty to third-degree murder, burglary, robbery, and related offenses in the May 2012 slaying of Joseph Fleming, 80, of the 6600 block of Yocum Street.

Assistant District Attorney Jude Conroy said Johnson broke in through a basement window.

When Fleming heard a noise in his basement, he went to the basement door. Conroy said Johnson then fired a shot from a .32-caliber handgun through the door, striking Fleming in the abdomen. When the door opened, Johnson again shot him in the abdomen.

Johnson then took a laptop computer and fled, Conroy said. As Pitts was waiting outside the house, Johnson handed him the computer, and both ran away, Conroy said.

Fleming, a Korean War veteran who raised six children, was able to call police and was rushed to the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. He died there 36 days later.

The prosecutor noted that Johnson escaped from police custody at Southwest Detectives a few days after he was arrested. He was picked up in Norfolk, Va., a few weeks later.

Speaking for several family members who were present, Fleming's daughter, Sharon Small, addressed the court.

"They made a choice that affected all of our lives, their families, and our family," Small said of Johnson and Pitts. "We stand here together with broken hearts because of their actions."

Johnson said: "I'd like to apologize to his family and I accept responsibility."

Pitts also offered a tepid apology. "I ask God for forgiveness. . . . I am sorry, and I regret my action," he said.

vclark@phillynews.com

215-854-5717

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