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Audrey Mabrey, Apollo Beach burn survivor, testifies about husband's attack

Detective Kenneth Ratcliff shows a hammer said to have been used as a weapon against Audrey Mabrey before her husband, Christopher Hanney, set her on fire Nov. 17, 2009.
Detective Kenneth Ratcliff shows a hammer said to have been used as a weapon against Audrey Mabrey before her husband, Christopher Hanney, set her on fire Nov. 17, 2009.
Published Jan. 25, 2012

TAMPA — The candle was scented cucumber melon. She remembered buying it at Target.

After her husband doused her with gasoline, she said, "he tossed it at me like he would toss a remote."

A Hillsborough County Circuit Court jury Tuesday heard Audrey Mabrey, 29, relive the day in November 2009 that left her with heavy burn scars all over her face and body. She testified for two hours. Her voice was strong, but she cried often.

"I thought I was going to die," she said. She has since endured seven surgeries.

Mabrey's husband, Christopher Hanney, 46, is charged with attempted murder, aggravated battery and arson. He is a former New York City police detective. Prosecutors offered a scenario in which Hanney intended to kill his wife out of jealousy, torch the house, then kill himself.

His attorneys told the jury that Hanney will testify as the trial continues. "Reserve judgment," Assistant Public Defender Jennifer Spradley asked jurors. "The story is not told by Miss Mabrey's scars."

Since the attack, Mabrey has told her story on national TV.

Mabrey testified Tuesday that she had separated from Hanney, but both were involved in the care of their two young children. She had an apartment in Brandon. She and the children sometimes stayed at the marital home in Apollo Beach if that was better for their schedules.

On Nov. 17, 2009, the kids were with a babysitter. Mabrey said she stopped at the home between classes at Hillsborough Community College and her job as a server. She didn't think Hanney was home.

After going for a jog, she said, she found Hanney in the home "stark naked with a butcher knife." She said he had shaved his entire body. "He bum-rushed me," she said.

Mabrey said he forced her into the garage and made her lie face-down on a blanket. "He tried to rape me anally with the knife at my throat."

She said he then stood up, told her he was going to call her ex-boyfriend in Kansas and "force him to listen to me die."

He said he wanted to know who really fathered their first child, she said. "I remember telling him, 'We planned him. He's yours.' "

She said he struck her with a hammer four times in the head, twice on each side.

It was then, she said, he lit the candle, doused her with gasoline and tossed the candle.

On fire, she stood and managed to pull up the garage door. He disappeared inside the house, where the fire quickly spread.

A neighbor helped her put out the flames on her body and, under the guidance of a 911 dispatcher, got her into a shower until she was airlifted to Tampa General Hospital.

A paramedic testified that her skin hung from her face and arms as though it had melted.

All the while, the house was engulfed in flames. David Tucker, a fire investigator for Hills­borough County Fire Rescue, said a separate fire had been set in the living-dining room area.

John O'Hara, a workman measuring property lines in the neighborhood, said he saw Hanney amid the flames at the open sliding glass doors behind the house. O'Hara said he pulled him to safety.

As he did, O'Hara testified, Hanney asked him: "Did I kill the b- - - -?"

Mabrey was on her feet in her neighbor's driveway when paramedics found her. She was able to describe what happened.

When she reached the hospital, Mabrey was put into an induced coma and didn't awaken until Christmastime, a month later. "The only things untouched were my feet."

John Barry can be reached at or (813) 226-3383.