Saturday, February 17, 2018
News Roundup

Jury convicts Tampa man of trying to kill his wife

TAMPA — The would-be murder weapon was one of those cheap plastic barbecue lighters, the kind that never works on the first click. In 2009, the balky lighter saved the life of Alison Aquino-Sanchez.

All this week, a jury heard how Sanchez was found by sheriff's deputies crawling from under a garage door — hysterical, bleeding, reeking of gasoline.

She told them her jealous husband's barbecue lighter had failed on two clicks.

On Friday, after deliberating seven hours over two days, the jury found Walter Dunn III guilty of trying to set her on fire in their family garage near Town 'N Country. Before his jealous rage, Dunn, 28, had never been arrested. Now, he faces 20 years in prison.

In one crazy night, said Assistant State Attorney Megan Newcomb, the father of two "destroyed his life, his wife's life and his family's life."

Dunn's attorney told the jury Sanchez exaggerated what happened because she'd been caught in an affair and feared she'd lose the house and children forever.

But the jury balanced that against photographs of the garage that depicted a medieval-like torture scene: a blood-smeared floor, a bloody folding chair, cutting tools and a can of gasoline.

The trouble had started two months before, in September 2009, when Sanchez attempted suicide. She had been found in the garage with the car motor running. Dunn immediately filed for divorce and got a court order awarding him sole use of the house and custody of their two children, now 10 and 6.

Despite that, Sanchez continued to cook for the family and take the children to school and Little League. The couple remained intimate.

Sanchez found sympathy from Marco Ramirez, a Little League coach also going through divorce. Phone records showed they called and texted each other night and day. They said it was platonic.

On the evening of Nov. 2, 2009, Dunn called Sanchez to ask where she was and who she was with. She told him she was with a girlfriend. But he could hear Ramirez's voice in the background. Dunn loaded the two children into the SUV and drove to Ramirez's nearby home.

Dunn told the jury he could see Sanchez and Ramirez snuggling on the living room couch. He said he knocked, and Ramirez got up to let him in. He said he then scuffled with Ramirez in the hallway, and Sanchez was hit by stray punches. Finally, he said, he and his wife drove home to talk things over.

Sanchez and Ramirez said Dunn screamed and pounded on the locked door, finally punching his way through a double pane of decorative glass. She said Dunn grabbed her hair and dragged her through the broken glass, forcing her into the back seat of the car.

She said the children cried in the front seat. She said Dunn demanded that she confess to an affair. At the house, she said, he herded the children upstairs and ordered her into the garage.

There he made her sit on a folding chair, she said, while he punched her, threatened to cut her fingers and toes off with his tools and threw gasoline on her. She said he clicked the barbecue lighter twice.

Back at his own house, Ramirez had called 911. That led deputies to the garage, where they found Sanchez.

Dunn told the jury he went into the laundry room after sending the kids upstairs and didn't go into the garage until he heard splashing noises and found his wife with the gasoline.

His attorney, Steven Sadow, told the jury Sanchez was desperate to get rid of Dunn. "She got caught in the middle of an affair. Children goodbye. House goodbye. But then Walter gets arrested. Walter gets prosecuted. You can't ignore that reasonable doubt."

The jury gave Dunn one break, reducing kidnapping to false imprisonment. But jurors found Dunn guilty of the rest of the charges: burglary with assault or battery, felony battery, aggravated assault and attempted second-degree murder.

Sentencing is set for Aug. 10.

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