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Christopher Hanney sentenced to life in prison for setting his wife on fire

Published Mar. 3, 2012

TAMPA — Her husband beat her, doused her with gasoline and set her on fire. She lived.

He tried to convince a jury it was all her fault. They believed her story instead.

On Friday, after two years of hearings, came the sentencing.

Audrey Mabrey, 29, stood at a court lectern wearing a domestic violence pin and the skin he left her in. She addressed the judge:

"In December 2009, I woke up after being in a coma for six weeks and felt completely lost," she said. "What I found in the mirror was devastation instantly followed by determination."

She endured excruciating therapy and surgeries. Learned to live with burns that cover most of her body. Searched for an answer to her young sons' questions of why.

Now, everything in her life suggests a moving-on. She has emerged as an advocate, returned to school, finalized her divorce.

Found a way to forgive.

But Mabrey was clear about the sentence she desired for her ex-husband: "I ask that the court, your honor, not show mercy on his earthly life, because he did not show mercy on mine."

The defense asked the judge to consider the shortest possible sentence, 12 years and six months.

Attorney Jennifer Spradley told the judge 46-year-old Hanney had spent his career as a law enforcement officer in New York and had searched through the debris of the twin towers after the 2001 terrorist attack.

"Better than anyone else," countered prosecutor Jennifer Gabbard, "this defendant should know right from wrong."

When Circuit Judge Emmett Lamar Battles announced the sentence, Mabrey closed her eyes and exhaled.

Life in prison for trying to kill his wife. Thirty years for the arson. Thirty for the aggravated battery with great bodily harm.

"Mr. Hanney," the judge said, "there is your victim, forever to bear the physical and emotional scars that were inflicted at your hands. It is her will to live, her strength in all of this that the court finds nothing short of amazing.

"But I'm struck by something else — the barbarity of these crimes, the viciousness, as cruel as this court has witnessed."

Hanney and Mabrey were separated when she stopped by his Apollo Beach house on a break between school and work and went for a jog, on Nov. 17, 2009.

When she returned, he forced her into the garage, hit her with a hammer, doused her with gasoline and tossed a candle.

Then in January, he tried to convince a jury she was trying to kill him that day, that it was she who wielded the candle and gasoline, and he kicked her, setting her aflame.

In an unusual move Friday, Hanney chose to reserve his comments until after the sentence, knowing the judge would not consider them. The man in the jail jumpsuit and chains turned to his ex-wife and said he prays for her forgiveness. He told her, "You are one of the most strongest and most courageous persons I have ever known."

Alexandra Zayas can be reached at azayas@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3354.

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