Sunday, July 7, 2024

Murdered for Four Bucks and a Nickel

The Sad Death of Morris "Rick" Fleming
By Robert A. Waters

It was March 5, 1986. Standing in the shadows of a patch of woods, Jerry Wickham (pictured) waited. Stone-broke, his battered old car was running on fumes. But he had a plan. On the grass beside a rural road, his vehicle sat with its hood up. Two bedraggled-looking women stood in front of the car.

One day earlier, this "odyssey" had started in Gaylesville, Alabama. Ten family members and friends, with Jerry Wickham the leader, had packed into two cars and headed out for Tampa, Florida. The trip was poorly planned, and they had no real prospects in Tampa, but they drove toward that city, ending up on U. S. Highway 319 near the Georgia-Florida line. Court documents reported that, along the way, the group members "consumed large quantities of alcohol and drugs."

Sylvia, Wickham's wife, held a baby so passing motorists would notice. Tammy Jordan, Wickham's daughter-in-law, stood close to the road to flag down a driver. (The second car had been stowed out of sight a mile away.)

Morris F. "Rick" Fleming drove a baby-blue 1977 Grand Prix. He noticed the women and braked to a stop. The twenty-seven-year-old, a loan officer for Blazer Finance Company, had a wife and young daughter at home. A regular church-goer, Fleming was known for helping those in need. Sylvia told him her car had broken down. As Rick leaned over to check out the engine, he never saw Jerry Wickham step out of the woods. 

Rick fiddled with the motor and concluded there was nothing amiss. It was then he noticed Wickham coming toward him holding a .22-caliber revolver. Rick, recognizing the threat, turned and began to walk back to his own car.

Wickham fired. The first bullet hit Rick in the back, near his shoulder. It spun him around and he fell to the ground. As he lay dazed, Wickham fired again, placing a bullet into Rick's chest. A Florida appeals court later wrote that "while Fleming pled for his life, Wickham shot the victim twice in the head. He then dragged the body away from the roadside and rummaged through Fleming's pockets. He found only four dollars and five cents." (NOTE: my italics.)

Turning to Sylvia, Wickham screamed, "Why didn't you stop someone with more money?" In shock, Sylvia burst into tears. She had been against the robbery all along, telling Wickham they could go to a church and get money. But he had decided on the robbery.

According to court documents, "the group drove to a gas station and put two dollars' worth of gas in one of the cars, and two dollars' worth in a gas can [which they put in the second car]. Wickham then changed his clothes and threw his bloodstained pants and shoes into a dumpster. Wickham directed one of the others to throw the empty bullet casings and live rounds out the window."

They later stopped at a church and obtained enough gas money to take them to Tampa.

Soon after the robbers left, a passerby spotted Rick's body and contacted police.
For nearly two years, cops had little luck in determining the identity of Rick's murderers. Then, in Ocala, Florida, a man charged with burglary decided to make a deal with investigators. For a reduced charge, the thief said he would tell cops about an unsolved murder that occurred near Tallahassee. He said he'd been with the group that murdered Rick Fleming.

Leon County Sheriff's Office investigators arrested Jerry Wickham. On December 8, 1988, a Florida court gave him an early Christmas present. Jurors found him guilty of First Degree Murder and Armed Robbery with a firearm and sentenced him to death.

Sylvia Wickham was convicted of Second Degree Murder and sentenced to 17 years in prison. Several other members of the group were convicted of lesser crimes. 

For 36 years, Jerry Wickham has cheated justice. He has filed appeal after appeal, all of which have been denied. Due to the broken criminal justice system in Florida, he'll likely die in prison before he comes up close and personal with a poison needle.

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