TAMPA — Walter Dunn III was attentive to his two children, loyal to his family and thoughtful of his co-workers. By all accounts, he was good to everyone but his wife.
On Friday, his attempt to set her on fire put him in prison for 17 years.
"He was a great provider, he was a leader," said his former wife, Alison Aquino-Sanchez. "But no one knew what was happening in that house."
All morning long Friday, Hillsborough Circuit Judge William Fuente heard how what Dunn did on Nov. 2, 2009, was foreign to everything he stood for.
On that night, Dunn, 29, tracked his estranged wife to the home of a male friend, burst in on them in a jealous rage and dragged her out of the house and into his SUV. Their two children, ages 4 and 7, screamed from the front seat.
When they got to their Town 'N Country home, Dunn forced Sanchez into the garage, where he beat her and threatened her with cutting tools. He then doused her with gasoline and tried to set her on fire. The lighter he used failed. Sheriff's deputies found her crawling out of the garage, hysterical, bloody and reeking of gasoline.
In June, a jury convicted him of burglary of a dwelling with assault or battery, attempted second-degree murder and three lesser felonies. He faced up to life in prison.
One by one Friday, friends and family members told how Dunn was an admissions officer at Everest University in Tampa, a Little League coach and a rock for his mother and sister to lean on. He was never known to have hurt anyone. He had no criminal record. His friend, Angela Matthews, said her mother sleeps with Dunn's photo at her bedside. "He always strives for the best," said his sister, Nicole Dunn.
The judge also heard how Dunn has helped Hillsborough jail inmates complete their GED courses.
Dunn wept. "I have devastated my children," he said. He hasn't seen them for almost three years. His legal costs have wiped out their college fund. He apologized to them, to his ailing mother and his family. "All are destroyed," he said.
He did not apologize to Sanchez.
Sanchez described how he had long belittled her, how he threatened to replace her with a nanny, how she attempted suicide several months before his attack. She said she and the children suffer from post traumatic stress syndrome.
"Walter," she said, "I see you in my dreams."
In passing sentence, Fuente said he saw before him "a responsible father, an exemplary character." He said he rarely sees such glowing references for convicted felons.
"Sadly, this involves very good people. It's hard to fathom what was going on in that garage."
Fuente sentenced Dunn to 17 years on the burglary with assault charge, 15 years for attempted murder, and five years each for felony battery, false imprisonment and aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. All the terms will run concurrently.
Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report. John Barry can be reached at (813) 226-3383 or [email protected]