Christopher Wilson, the quiet Brooklyn man burned in an attack here five months ago, said Thursday he holds no ill will toward the place where he spent the most horrifying moments of his life.
"People have asked me if I still would visit Tampa," said Wilson. Yes, he said; in fact he may eventually move to Florida.
The soft-spoken brokerage clerk said the thought of any violent reaction to a verdict in the nationally publicized case bothers him.
"I think I'm hurt enough already .
." he said. "I think it would hurt me more to see somebody else get hurt by this."
Wilson, 32, was in Tampa to testify at the trial of Lakeland men Mark Kohut and Charles Rourk, charged with robbing him at gunpoint, dousing him with gasoline and setting him on fire New Year's Day. A note signed "KKK" was found at the scene.
On the ninth day of jury selection, Circuit Judge Donald C. Evans agreed Wednesday to move the trial. Evans said Thursday he would consider moving it to West Palm Beach or Fort Myers, although Orlando had been his first choice because of proximity.
He said Orlando officials were reluctant to take the case because of the inconvenience and expense of handling the recent retrial of police officer William Lozano, moved to Orlando from Miami. Evans postponed a decision until Thursday.
As the search for a new trial site continued, Wilson on Thursday faced a group of Tampa reporters eager to hear his thoughts.
"This is something new to me," he said of his celebrity status. "I don't like this type of thing. I'm just a quiet, normal person."
Wilson's cream shirt, green jacket and blue pants covered burns over nearly 40 percent of his body, though damage is evident on one bandaged hand.
"You just can't believe somebody in their right mind would do this to another person for no reason at all .
." he said. "To set another person on fire, because it hurts so much."
He said the skin grafts are over, but there is pain and he must exercise the skin.
"My chest, it gets so tight like you're stretching a rubber band," he said.
Besides the scars, his life has changed completely, he said.
"I've become more aware of people _ I just have to be more aware, more careful," he said.
Wilson, a native of Jamaica, would not talk about the attack or how he felt about defendant-turned-witness Jeffery Pellett's plea deal, or what he might say to the accused if he could.
While in the hospital, he kept the horror out of his mind.
"I just tried not to think about what happened to me," he said. "It hurt so much."
He seemed to lack anger, and he credited that with how well the healing has gone.
"That's the type of person I am .
." he said. "If I constantly was angry, I might not have reached as far as I have now."
"If anyone in the world has a right to feel animosity, it's Chris," said Hillsborough State Attorney Harry Lee Coe III. "And he doesn't."
His mother, Enid Plummer, by his side throughout the interview, declined to speak, but wiped away tears.
Wilson had been visiting Florida since 1989, and this is the first racial incident that ever happened to him, he said.
"To me, it seems like (racism) is getting worse," he said.
Before, he loved fishing, swimming and biking. Now, those things are on hold, but he still plans to move to Florida someday.
Positive things he relies on are sporting events, ESPN, talking to a friend _ "anything not to think about it."
He said he looks forward to getting back to a normal life, if life can be normal again.
"I'm just hopeful," he said.
_ Staff writer Marty Rosen contributed to this report.