Shooter and look-out man sentenced for home invasion murder of 80-year-old man

Sean Johnson, left, and Aaron Pitts pled guilty to day to the murder of Joseph Fleming. Credit: Sean Johnson, left, and Aaron Pitts pled guilty to day to the murder in May 2012 of Joseph Fleming. Credit: PPD

Two men pled guilty today and were immediately sentenced to prison time for murdering an 80-year-old man during a home invasion in which the victim’s Macbook laptop was stolen.

Sean Johnson, 20, was sentenced to 35 to 70 years in prison after pleading guilty to shooting his neighbor Joseph Fleming, 80, twice in the abdomen inside Fleming’s home near 67th Street and Woodland Avenue as part of a robbery in the middle of the afternoon on May 17, 2012.

“I’d like to say sorry to the family for your loss and to apologize to my family for my actions,” Johnson said before the sentence was handed down. “I understand what was done was unreasonable and unacceptable and that’s why I’ve accepted responsibility.”

Fleming, a Korean War vet who was 6 feet tall and 217 pounds at the time of his death, clung to life for more than a month through eight surgeries before succumbing to the bullet wounds and other medical complications, dying on June 22, 2012.

“On May 17, 2012, they have made a choice that has changed all our lives forever — not just our family, but their family as well,” said Fleming’s daughter, Sharon Small, in an emotional statement before the sentences were handed down. “They decided to steal something. And they did. They stole my father’s life.”

“We stand together with broken hearts … My sister prays that they shall find God. And God says, ‘Thou shalt not kill,'” Small concluded tearfully.

Fleming’s wife, children and grand-children attended the sentencing for this murder, which “ripped a hole through the fabric of the community,” as Judge Rosemarie Defino put it.

“This is a guy that had lived his entire life there. He was raised in Southwest Philly, he married, raised several children, worked his entire life — he did everything right,” said prosecutor Jude Conroy. “In the twilight of his life, for his life to be ended in such a sadly horrific way, to the court’s mind, ripped a hole through the fabric of Southwest Philly.”

Johnson, who lived with his aunt on 67th Street around the corner from Fleming, admitted that he entered Fleming’s house through the basement and when he heard noises through the basement door, fired a .38-caliber handgun once through the door, striking Fleming in the abdomen, before opening the door and shooting Fleming, who had fallen to the ground, a second time in the abdomen, stealing his laptop, and fleeing the house.

“You opened the door and shot again. That is gigantic,” Judge Defino told Johnson before handing down the sentence. “You shot him once, you saw the man was down and you shot him again. It’s not that simple, ‘Oh I’m sorry for your loss.’ … He lived through 80 years and he was taken down by you, a 19-year-old who wanted a laptop.”

Johnson was arrested on May 24, but later somehow managed to escape the Southwest Detectives Division at 55th and Pine streets by just walking out of the police station, in plain view of a sergeant and police officer who assumed Johnson had been discharged, according to Conroy.

Johnson fled to Norfolk, Virginia where his mother resided to hide with his family, but was apprehended by authorities in June and later returned to Philadelphia. Johnson was convicted of escape charges but was sentenced to no further penalty on that charge in addition to his sentence for murder, robbery and conspiracy charges.

Codefendant Aaron Pitts, 22, was sentenced to 20 to 40 years on murder, robbery and conspiracy charges for serving as “look out” and waiting outside the house for Johnson, then carrying the stolen laptop.

“I’m gonna pray every day to ask God for forgiveness,” Pitts said before the sentence was handed down. “I don’t know what he’s going to do me when my time comes, whenever that might be.”

Judge Defino however pointed out that Pitts was aware that Johnson had a gun and had entered an occupied home, and that he had likely killed somebody to get the laptop, but that according to his statement to police, Pitts proceeded to call people to ask about how to get a charger for the Macbook.

“If somebody hands me a laptop they killed somebody for I’d be sick to my stomach, I’d be vomiting,” Judge Defino said. “How you could you touch that thing when you knew where it came from?”

Johnson’s defense attorney, Regina Coyne, pointed out that Johnson was 19 when the crime happened.

“It’s tragic all around … He was 19 — he had no heavy criminal record,” Coyne said. “I’m sure he didn’t go in there with the intent to hurt anyone.”

Coyne said that because Johnson pled guilty, “The family will be spared the pain of a trial.”

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