Like a scene from a “horror movie,” Daniel Denuzzi, 47, tramped up to his Star Valley neighbor’s home with a 5-gallon gasoline can in one hand and an ax in the other. He threw the ax through the home’s front window, nearly striking his neighbor in the face.
Next, he tossed a burning rag inside, which set the house on fire. His neighbor fled for his life.
Denuzzi ran screaming he would kill the man and his family.
A woman driving past braked to avoid hitting Denuzzi. She watched in horror as Denuzzi turned his rage toward her, reportedly coming after her with the ax.
“The facts are so unbelievably terrifying that one could mistake the police report for a script to a horror movie,” wrote Gila County Deputy Attorney Shawn Fuller in his sentencing recommendation.
Both victims escaped uninjured.
There is no fairy tale ending for Denuzzi though. He faces a possible 51-year prison sentence if a superior court judge accepts the prosecutor’s recommendations on Friday in Globe.
On Oct. 21, Superior Court Judge Peter Cahill rejected an insanity defense and found Denuzzi guilty of attempted first-degree murder, arson, aggravated assault and threatening and intimidating behavior. He acquitted Denuzzi on attempted murder charges related to the woman in the vehicle.
On Sept. 6, Denuzzi waived his right to a jury trial, letting Cahill determine his guilt. Denuzzi’s defense attorney argued Denuzzi was off his medication and legally insane that day. But Cahill ruled the defense had not proven insanity.
Denuzzi maintains he was crazy that day.
“I am truly sorry, but I think I deserve another chance instead of prison,” he wrote to the court for the presentencing report. “I was out of my mind and off my regular medication, but different medication from a different doctor! Plus, a little alcohol, two shots. I promise never to stop taking my meds ever again!!!”
Probation and Fuller both asked Cahill to sentence Denuzzi to a lengthy prison term.
Like a horror movie
Police dispatchers got the frantic call about an ax-wielding man in Star Valley just after noon Nov. 18, 2011.
Investigators later pieced together that Denuzzi’s neighbor had gone to the Gila County Sheriff’s Office earlier to report that Denuzzi had threatened him and his family.
When the man returned home, Denuzzi appeared, ax and gas can in hand.
Denuzzi chased after the man and then the woman in the vehicle before officers arrested him.
The neighbor’s home had extensive damage from the fire, according to a police report.
During a pre-sentencing interview, Denuzzi told a probation officer that he had been off illegal drugs for seven years and on prescription drugs for some time. He had not taken his prescribed medication for perhaps three months.
He said he had been sexually and physically abused as a child, which caused life-long problems.
While Denuzzi told probation he could recall what happened that day, he maintains he was hallucinating and highly delusional.
His belief the neighbor was shooting at his girlfriend threw him into a frenzy, prompting him to grab his ax and chase the man, probation wrote.
“The investigation in this case revealed the defendant, in an enraged state, committed an unconscionable, heinous act of violence against (victim’s name redacted) and (victim’s name redacted) with no provocation,” probation wrote.
Fuller wrote that Denuzzi “poses a clear and present danger to the community” and should therefore be punished with prison time, “such egregious violence” should not be tolerated.