A homeless woman who poured gasoline on a homeless man and set him on fire in a horrifying, excruciating attack was sentenced Monday to five years in state prison.
The victim’s mother tried to speak at the sentencing hearing, but was overcome with emotion and someone else had to explain that the mother believes her son has post-traumatic stress disorder and will never be the same.
The victim at an earlier hearing said he “never experienced so much pain in my life,” and he was “burning alive” when he awoke at a hospital.
Shalonda Christine Shaw, 35, was convicted of felony mayhem last year for the September, 2019 attack in South Los Angeles, and jurors also found that she personally used a dangerous and deadly weapon — gasoline — during the attack on the 36-year-old man.
The panel acquitted her of one count each of attempted murder, assault with caustic chemicals and arson causing great bodily injury, according to the District Attorney’s Office.
During the sentencing hearing, Alternate Public Defender Sara Forrest asked the judge to consider probation and referenced a report from a psychiatric social worker.
“Miss Shaw was suffering from a mental health condition at the time of this incident for which she was unmedicated and also self-medicating … with methamphetamines,” Forrest told the court.
Forrest asked that Shaw be given probation with an intensive dual-diagnosis residential treatment program, rather than a prison sentence that would ultimately release her back into the community without the benefit of treatment.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Laura Priver said that sentencing includes an element of punishment and accountability that should not be overlooked.
The judge added that she had to “recognize damage done to the victim … (and) … all of the people that are involved in that person’s life,” before denying probation and handing down the five-year sentence.
Shaw poured gasoline from a container on the man in the 1600 block of West Slauson Boulevard on Sept. 5, 2019, according to evidence presented during her trial. The victim sustained burns over about 30% of his body, including his hands, feet and legs, authorities said soon after the attack.
Some of the gasoline landed on a 27-year-old woman, who sustained minor burns to her arms and declined treatment.
KTLA reported that the incident happened at a homeless encampment and Shaw and her victim were both homeless.
The victim’s testimony — made during an earlier hearing on whether the defendant should be allowed to attend a diversion program — was read aloud prior to sentencing.
“I stand before you in the courtroom to expose both my pain and suffering,” he said during that earlier hearing. “On September 5, 2019, my life was drastically changed for the worse. I never experienced so much pain in my life. I thought I was dead. I was literally burning alive when I woke up in the hospital.”
He spoke about the series of surgeries he had to undergo over the next five weeks, as doctors removed his burnt skin and placed fish scales over his body to help heal the wounds. Doctors later used grafts from his legs to replace the skin on the rest of his body.
“My family was there by my side, every step of the way. My mother and my little sister took turns on spending the night in the hospital … sleeping in a chair, day in and day out,” he said, while his dad would drop by on his days off to deliver food and clothing.
“I couldn’t walk at all until my last surgery … my mother gave me baths and literally helped me use the restroom because I couldn’t get out of bed … it felt like I was a little kid again.”
Caring for him took a toll on his family, especially his 14-year-old son, who he said had an anxiety attack when he learned what happened to his father and had to be rushed to the hospital himself.
“(My doctor) told me I won’t be able to run or jump for the rest of my life,” the man testified. “This broke my heart because I won’t be able to do the things that my son loves to do … like basketball or football. I’m not even able to provide for my son like I’m supposed to.”
More than a year after the attack, he said, “Every day I live in fear that the defendant’s family will try to retaliate because she’s in jail. I’m always depressed, and I have isolated myself from everyone … No one will ever know the pain I’ve gone through. I wouldn’t wish this on anyone.”
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