Burglars who murdered Korean War veteran will spend decades in prison
By Mensah M. Dean | Philadelphia Daily News | Published: April 8, 2014
PHILADELPHIA — Joseph Fleming survived the Great Depression and war, but he could not survive the two bullets a gunslinging burglar pumped into his abdomen and pelvis on May 17, 2012.
Fleming, a decorated Korean War veteran, husband and father of six, died 36 days after gunman Sean Johnson, 20, and his sidekick, Aaron Pitts, 22, broke into the victim's home on Yocum Street near 66th, Southwest Philly.
After gunning down Fleming, 80, Johnson stole a laptop computer, and the two thieves fled.
Yesterday, instead of going to trial for a crime they had already told homicide detectives they committed, both Johnson and Pitts pleaded guilty.
If convicted at trial, both could have received sentences of life without parole.
Under a negotiated guilty plea, Common Pleas Judge Rose Marie DeFino-Nastasi sentenced Johnson to 35 to 70 years in prison for third-degree murder, burglary and related crimes. Pitts got 20 to 40 years behind bars.
"On May 17, 2012, they made a choice that has changed all of our lives forever. Not just our family's lives but their families', too," Sharon Small, one of the victim's children, said during the sentencing hearing.
"They stole a man's life. Not just any man: our father, grandfather and her husband," an emotional Small said.
DeFino-Nastasi asked the defendants if they understood the "gravity, the weight," of what they had done.
She chastised Johnson for shooting through a door striking Fleming, then opening the door and shooting the fallen homeowner again.
"You saw the man down and you shot him again," she said. "You did something that was really horrible that day."
The judge asked Pitts how, after Johnson gave him the stolen laptop taken from the murder victim, his only concern was finding a charger for the computer.
"You got less time than him, but your behavior was reprehensible on that day," the judge told Pitts.
Pitts surrendered to police the day Fleming died, June 22, 2012.
Johnson was arrested a few days after the shooting, but escaped from police custody and was recaptured by U.S. marshals in Norfolk, Va., the next month.