TAMPA — In a Hillsborough courtroom Monday, during a busy docket call, all side conversations came to a halt as a bailiff emerged with the inmate.
Matthew Wong, 51, was slumped in a wheelchair, his head bandaged, his ears deformed, his flesh so profoundly burned that his once-brown skin was now pink.
A woman in the audience whispered, "Oh, my God."
Wong was there to answer to a charge of attempted murder, that on the morning of Feb. 6, 2012, he tried to set his wife on fire, but instead engulfed himself in flames.
He was now hard of hearing, the judge heard, and blind in one eye. Circuit Judge J. Rogers Padgett asked Wong to raise his right hand, which it appeared the man barely managed to do, and give his plea.
"Guilty," Wong said.
One week before his scheduled trial, Wong accepted a plea deal that will put him in prison for 10 years, then on probation for another 10. Prosecutors would have presented evidence that, after 25 years of marriage, he had recently separated from his wife, Gloria Davis Wong, when he drove to the Countrywood apartment complex in a rental car and waited for her to leave for work.
When he saw her, he chased her with gasoline, but only managed to douse himself. When she took refuge in an apartment, he tried to light it on fire. That's when he lit himself.
Assistant State Attorney Natalia Silver told the judge that while the wife was not burned, she suffered "severe mental trauma."
She decided not to go to court on Monday, but told the prosecutor she agreed with the sentence.
Alexandra Zayas can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3354.