A San Pedro woman who pleaded guilty to hurling both her young sons 50 feet off a Long Beach bridge, killing one of them, was sentenced Thursday to 12 years in custody.
Long Beach Municipal Judge Bradford Andrews recommended that Donna Jean Fleming, who jumped off the bridge herself, serve at least part of her sentence in a mental hospital since the crimes were a “direct result” of her mental illness. Evidence suggested that she had been mentally ill for at least a year before the Feb. 21 incident, Andrews said.
Fleming’s attorney, Stephen Pace, said the ruling was appropriate, but that 12 years may not be enough time to cure her lifelong mental condition. He said she had long heard voices in her head urging her to take her own life.
“Earlier in life [the voices] were her friends,” Pace said. “As time went on they became hostile.”
Ruddy-faced and calm as she was led into court, Fleming waved and smiled to her mother, Joyce Overton, but remained silent. Overton, the sole member of Fleming’s family in court, sobbed quietly, refusing to speak to reporters.
Fleming, initially charged with murder, pleaded guilty last month to voluntary manslaughter in the death of her 22-month-old son, Craig Alan. She also pleaded guilty to attempted voluntary manslaughter of her 3-year-old son, Michael Robert Jr., who survived the plunge off the Ocean Boulevard Bridge into the Los Angeles River.
Witnesses reported seeing Fleming, then 24, toss the children into the river, then jump off the bridge. One witness flagged down police, who summoned lifeguards who were able to rescue Fleming and Michael Jr. The toddler, however, had already drowned.
Fleming’s husband, Michael, an oil refinery worker, has had custody of Michael Jr. since the boy recovered from a brief bout with hypothermia brought on by the plunge. The husband has since requested a divorce, his wife’s attorney said, but she has refused.
Michael Fleming could not be reached for comment Thursday, but he and neighbors of the family said earlier that they noticed his wife acting strangely before the February incident. Michael Fleming said that he had asked her to get mental treatment after she spoke of hearing imaginary people, but that she denied being ill and refused to get help.
Police say Michael Fleming told them about his wife’s depression and other psychological problems as they responded to one of many spousal abuse calls to the Fleming home in 1994. However, police said, such accusations are common among men accused of abusing their wives.
Deputy Dist. Atty. Ron Geltz, who prosecuted the case, said he approved of the judge’s prescribed combination of punishment and treatment. He added that Fleming will probably spend the next month under doctors’ supervision before state Department of Corrections officials decide whether to transfer her to a regular prison.
Fleming, now on maximum dosages of antidepressant and anti-hallucinatory drugs, will serve about 10 years in custody, her attorney said.