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Hillsborough jury finds husband guilty of setting wife on fire

TAMPA

Moments after her husband was found guilty Thursday of trying to kill her by dousing her with gasoline and setting her on fire, Audrey Mabrey said she had a message for other victims of domestic violence.

"Get help," she said.

"Be smart. It's a choice."

Mabrey and her family burst into tears when a six-person jury convicted her 46-year-old husband, Christopher Hanney, after deliberating, sometimes raucously, for 5 1/2 hours.

Mabrey, 29, stood flanked by her parents from Texas and Julie Weintraub, founder of the charity Hands Across the Bay, who helped save Mabrey from homelessness after she spent three months in the hospital recovering from burns.

Weintraub and Hands Across the Bay provided an apartment and furniture for the mother of two. Weintraub gave Mabrey a car to drive.

Mabrey's friends and family said her main fear was that Hanney would be acquitted and would attack her again.

As the jury deliberated through the afternoon, shouts could be heard through the walls. Near the announcement of a verdict, the jury could be heard laughing.

Two jurors reached Thursday night after the verdict declined to comment.

They convicted Hanney of attempted first-degree murder with a weapon and aggravated battery with great bodily harm, each punishable by up to life in prison. They also convicted him of first-degree arson, punishable by up to 30 years.

Hillsborough Circuit Judge Emmett Battles said he will sentence Hanney on March 2. He will remain in jail until then.

Hanney's grown son and daughter from a previous marriage attended the trial, but were unable to get to the courthouse in time to hear the verdict.

Mabrey was burned on Nov. 17, 2009, at Hanney's home in Apollo Beach. She testified that her husband was jealous of an ex-boyfriend.

They were divorcing, but still shared the care of their two small children. When she stopped by the marital home, he forced her into the garage, tried to rape her, struck her four times with a hammer, then threw gasoline on her and used one of her scented candles to set her on fire.

Hanney testified that he actually had been the intended victim — that his wife and an armed, masked accomplice tied him to a chair and put a gun to his head.

He said Mabrey threatened him with the lit candle and a bottle of gasoline. Hanney said he kicked Mabrey, the gas spilled, and she "went up in a fireball."

In closing arguments, Assistant State Attorney Jennifer Gabbard said Hanney had two years in jail to make up that story.

While he was jailed, Mabrey struggled. At Tampa General Hospital, she was kept in an induced coma until Christmastime 2009. She endured seven surgeries. Her parents, Richard and Lisa Brown, came from Texas to be with her.

Richard Brown said in an interview that they'd been notified by a plainclothes policeman in Texas right after the attack. Brown thought the officer was an intruder and had tackled him in the yard. It took the Browns two days to get a flight. When they arrived, they found their daughter unrecognizable.

As Mabrey recovered, she became a spokeswoman for domestic violence prevention, appearing on national television. She now attends Hillsborough Community College. Her mother said Mabrey wants to study psychiatry.

From jail, Hanney tried to manipulate his wife by writing her a letter begging forgiveness, Gabbard said. In the letter, he told Mabrey he loved her more than ever, that she was still beautiful, even with her scars.

Hanney got that part right, Weintraub said.

"I don't see her scars anymore," her friend said.

"I see only her beauty."

Times news researcher John Martin and staff writer Robbyn Mitchell contributed to this report. John Barry can be reached at (813) 226-3383 or jbarry@tampabay.com.

Hillsborough jury finds husband guilty of setting wife on fire 01/26/12 [Last modified: Friday, January 27, 2012 12:11am]
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