Anthony Alexander Padgett, 36, now jailed on suspicion of murder, admitted lighting a sleeping man on fire in a supermarket parking lot in January 2010 in the San Diego suburb of National City.
In a two-page handwritten note to a judge, Padgett blamed the influence of drugs — saying he was “super stoned and intoxicated plus using my prescribed medications” — and that he only intended to scare the victim, whom he knew.
“My intention … was that he see the fire burning next to him and wake up and be angry at me, thus awakening himself from his nap. I did not hurt him purposely or willingly. I was negligent and made the mistake of walking a few feet away from him and started thinking + looking at something else for a few seconds!”
In the note, Padgett also calls himself a “homeless citizen,” asks Jesus to forgive his sins and expresses remorse for the victim, saying, “I’ll never be so stupid again.”
The victim suffered burns over nearly 30 percent of his body. One witness told police that Padgett poured an unknown fluid on the victim and then a “whoosh” noise came before the man caught fire.
A jury convicted Padgett of assault and mayhem. The Star News of Chula Vista reported that he was sentenced to four years in prison, half of what state prosecutors sought.
Padgett was arrested Thursday about a block from a trolley station in Chula Vista, the San Diego suburb where he was born. He was booked into jail on suspicion of murder, attempted murder and arson in the attacks on four homeless men in San Diego that left two dead and two severely injured.
A law enforcement official with direct knowledge of both investigations told The Associated Press that the suspect is the same Anthony Padgett. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because San Diego police have not publicly made any connection.
Luis Patino, a spokesman for the state corrections department, said he could not release Padgett’s criminal history because the San Diego Police Department requested that it remain sealed during the investigation. He would not confirm that Padgett had been under parole supervision after his release from prison.
San Diego County spokeswoman Michele Clock said Padgett had never been under supervision by the county’s probation department.
This week’s attacks bore similar hallmarks to the earlier crime. Three victims were sleeping alone, and two were set on fire.
All four suffered extensive trauma to the upper torso. Police have declined to elaborate on the nature of the injuries or any weapons used.
The violence began Sunday, when police found the badly burned remains of Angelo De Nardo between Interstate 5 and train tracks. The 53-year-old died before his body was set on fire.
The next day, officers responding to a 911 call found Manuel Mason, 61, with life-threatening injuries to his upper torso. A few hours later, police discovered the body of Shawn Longley, 41, who bled from the upper torso and died.
On Wednesday, a 23-year-old man, whose name has not been released, was severely injured after being set on fire downtown, police said. A witness pulled away a burning cloth that the attacker put on him before fleeing.
The attacks left San Diego’s homeless population on edge. Many heeded the advice of homeless advocates to sleep in groups and in populated, well-lit areas.
Ron Shatto normally sleeps under a tarp stretched over two shopping carts but joined other transients in a small camp Wednesday night. He never closed his eyes.
“I don’t want to wake up on fire,” said Shatto, 51, who has been living in the streets since February 2015, most recently under a freeway bridge.