Jurors didn't buy Christopher Hanney's story about the masked man and Hanney's heroic efforts to save his wife, who he testified had conspired with the stranger to try to kill him.
Instead, a jury convicted the retired New York City police detective Thursday on charges of first-degree attempted murder, first-degree arson and aggravated battery for dousing his wife with gasoline and lighting her and their house on fire.
Hanney had claimed the fire was an accident caused in a struggle that ensued after his wife, Audrey Mabrey, and an unknown masked man ambushed and tried to kill him. Mabrey, whose body was left scarred, testified that Hanney ambushed her in his Apollo Beach home, dragged her into the garage, tried to rape her and then hit her on the head with a hammer and set her ablaze.
Hanney showed no outward reaction to the verdict announced about 6:30 p.m., but Mabrey, who was in the courtroom spectator section, wept and embraced supporters. She later hugged the prosecutor, Assistant State Attorney Jennifer Gabbard.
She told reporters she was "relieved" at the verdict and thanked the community for its outpouring of support.
Mabrey urged other victims of domestic violence to "be smart and get help."
Jurors deliberated about five hours before delivering their verdict. Hanney, 49, faces up to life behind bars when he is sentenced March 12.
The couple were preparing for divorce, and Mabrey, 29, had moved out of the house to an apartment in Brandon.
Mabrey said she stopped at their house before nearby classes at Hillsborough Community College the day of the attack, Nov. 17, 2009.
Hanney, said he was surprised by Mabrey and the masked man, who tied him to a chair.
Hanney said that at some point, Mabrey entered the garage with a 2-liter bottle and a lit candle, and when the man put a pillow and a gun to Hanney's head, he started kicking and accidentally kicked Mabrey, who burst into flames.
Mabrey managed to run out of the garage, where a neighbor helped her extinguish the fire.
Public defender Jennifer Spradley urged jurors in her closing arguments Thursday morning to "look past the scars" on Mabrey and consider the evidence that proved Hanney was not guilty.
"Mr. Hanney never intended for this to happen," Spradley said. She said that if Hanney wanted to kill his wife, he would have succeeded.
But Gabbard said the evidence was clear that Hanney intended to commit murder and suicide that day.
"He paints himself as a victim and a hero," she said, referring to his claim that he tried to save his wife after she caught fire. Gabbard said his testimony was "riddled with inconsistencies and impossibility and completely illogical."
She pointed to a letter Hanney wrote to Mabrey after he was arrested in which he apologized and told her he loved her.
Gabbard also reminded jurors of testimony that Hanney told sheriff's deputies and a chaplain that he regretted not killing himself.
To believe Hanney's testimony, Gabbard said, jurors would have to believe everyone who testified in the trial except for Hanney had lied.
"This defendant decided to kill Audrey Mabrey," Gabbard said, "because he finally figured out that he lost her."