LA CRESCENTA -- Almost two years ago, Sharon Wilson's estranged
husband gouged the floors, punched holes in the walls and piled flammable
material on all the vents of their La Crescenta home. Two days later, he
came back, doused everything with gasoline and burned the house to the
Patrick Wilson was convicted of aggravated arson and sentenced to five
years in jail, but his wife -- their divorce isn't final -- has been told
he could be out of jail as early as April.
Three of those years were levied as part of a sentence enhancement due
to the nature of the crime. But an appellate court has ruled that the
enhancement is discretionary -- that is, the trial judge has the
discretion to strike that portion of the sentence.
It was a crime of passion and rage. As part of divorce negotiations,
Patrick Wilson had asked his wife to give him full ownership of their
business and half the value of the house, Wilson said. When she didn't
immediately respond, he took it as a "no," she said. "At that point, he
destroyed the house," Wilson said.
The thought that he could be on the street in months is frightening to
Wilson, she said.
"It will be returning to the trial judge, and we think the trial judge
will be sympathetic to him and let him off," she said. The state
attorney general asked the appellate court to rehear the issue, which the
court declined. The next step is to try to get the issue in front of the
state Supreme Court, Deputy Dist. Atty. Rhonda Saunders said.
"It's a novel issue," said Saunders, who heads the district attorney's
Stalking and Threat Assessment Team. "It has not been addressed,
especially this particular enhancement."
The decision ultimately rests with the court as to whether it will
hear the case, Saunders said, but Wilson hopes public attention will
compel the court to do so.
"It has overarching implications, because it could set a precedent,"
The sentence enhancement is important because it addresses instances
like Wilson's, in which her ex-husband used a trail of paper to make the
fire spread more quickly, Saunders said. "Even if someone is not in the
house when the arson occurs, it can still be dangerous to the neighbors
and the firefighters that have to respond," Saunders said.
For Wilson, a teacher, the fear lasted long after the last flames of
her home had been put out. Not knowing whether the Supreme Court will
hear the case, and whether her ex-husband will remain in jail for three
more years, she is making plans to protect herself and her family.
"We've sold our townhouse and are moving out of town," she said. "I
would be in danger if I stayed."
Her two teenage daughters will live with friends while they finish
high school, but Wilson will change her name and give up her career, she
"He's still mad," she said. "I don't have the time to find out, so I
have to make all the plans to leave. I can't wait until I find out --
there's not time to do everything."