SAN DIEGO - A man accused of a spate of attacks on homeless people who were asleep and in some cases set on fire was sentenced to prison six years ago for a strikingly similar crime.
CBS News 8 in San Diego reports that Anthony Alexander Padgett, 36, was convicted of mayhem and sentenced to four years in prison for a 2010 attack on a 49-year-old homeless friend, who was also set ablaze, in Chula Vista.
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.
Authorities told the Star News of Chula Vista in 2012 that Padgett was homeless and that he set fire to a friend who was sleeping in a supermarket parking lot. The victim suffered burns over nearly 30 percent of his body, according to the newspaper. Prosecutors had sought an eight-year prison term.
San Diego police Capt. David Nisleit declined to comment Friday on a connection between the 2012 attack and the four assaults this week.
They bore similar hallmarks. At least three of the recent 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 some 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 the victim 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.
Late Thursday morning, Father Joe's Villages, a major local homeless services provider, announced that it was seeking funding to provide additional beds at its downtown St. Vincent de Paul Village shelter as a means of helping protect those who have nowhere else to stay.
San Diego police Chief Shelley Zimmerman described the attacks as "evil acts of violence'' that "are some of the worst that I have seen in my 34 years in law enforcement.''
Speaking from the back of a police car, Padgett told reporters that he is innocent. He is scheduled to be arraigned on Monday.