The 36-year-old man accused in a string of brutal attacks on homeless men that left two dead and two critically injured was convicted in 2010 of setting a homeless man on fire in Chula Vista.
Anthony Padgett, who was himself homeless at the time, was found guilty of mayhem for setting a fire that burned Sydney Moreno, a friend of Padgett’s, over 20% to 25% of his body. Padgett was sentenced to four years in prison.
He currently faces two counts of murder and two counts of attempted murder in a series of attacks targeting transients that began Sunday. Three of the four victims were sleeping when they were attacked. All of the men suffered similar and significant trauma to the upper torso. Two of the men were torched.
Padgett was arrested Thursday, five days after the random attacks started.
Prosecutors said witnesses to the Jan. 6, 2010, incident watched Padgett pour a fluid on Moreno while he was sleeping and then saw Moreno catch fire. They said Padgett stood by and watched the victim burn, making no attempt to help him, according to court documents.
The witnesses yelled at Padgett, who then started putting the fire out with his foot, according to court documents. When police arrived, he gave three separate stories to officers before eventually admitting he set Moreno ablaze, the documents read.
Padgett and his attorney claimed that although Padgett did set the fire, he didn’t intend the flames to consume his friend.
“I was super stoned and intoxicated plus using my prescribed medications,” Padgett said of the incident in a letter to the judge in the case. “My (intention) was for Syd Moreno, was that he see the fire burning next to him and wake up and be angry at me… . I did not hurt him purposely or willingly.”
Moreno also believed Padgett wouldn’t intentionally hurt him, and that Padgett was a man of good character, according to court documents.
A jury found Padgett guilty of mayhem and assault by means to produce great bodily injury. He was found not guilty of aggravated mayhem, battery causing serious bodily injury, battery and assault.
Chula Vista police Sgt. Frank Giaime, a member of the community policing unit, was part of the 2010 investigation. He said the incident was unprovoked, similar to the past week’s incidents.
“I remember how random it was and how matter of fact [Padgett] was about it,” Giaime said. “It was shocking.”
Giaime accompanied Moreno to the hospital.
“He was burnt all over his body and required a bunch of skin grafts,” Giaime said.
He said the witnesses were passing by on a bike when they spotted Padgett dousing Moreno with the fluid.
“They thought he was urinating on him...” the sergeant said. “It turns out he was dousing him with alcohol. [Padgett] was blasé about it.”
Though Giaime said there appeared to be no motive, he felt Padgett’s actions were “up close and personal and sadistic.”
“You know when you light somebody on fire they’re going to burn, and it’s not going to be quick,” he said.
Giaime said the Chula Vista Police Department is looking back at some older cases to make sure he’s not a suspect in any other homicides.
The recent incidents began Sunday, when 53-year-old Angelo De Nardo’s body was discovered in Bay Park. His badly burned corpse was found along Morena Boulevard under the Clairemont Drive freeway bridge off Interstate 5.
Sampite-Montecalvo and Winkley write for the San Diego Union-Tribune.