SAN FERNANDO (CNS) - A man who set his 59-year-old mother on fire as she slept, and continued to attack her as she pleaded for her life at her Sylmar home four years ago, pleaded guilty today to first-degree murder.
Superior Court Judge Cynthia Ulfig immediately sentenced Phillip Chang, now 29, to life in prison without the possibility of parole for the Aug. 25, 2012, attack on his mother, Heunae, according to Deputy District Attorney Sean Carney.
Chang -- who could have faced a potential death sentence had he gone to trial -- also admitted the special circumstance allegations of murder while lying in wait, murder involving the infliction of torture and murder during aggravated mayhem.
While she was asleep, Chang sprayed his mother with a can of WD-40 and used a barbecue lighter to set her ablaze, Carney said.
She was attacked again -- beaten and burned -- after trying to escape downstairs, then was dragged out to a back patio where neighbors were awakened by her screams, the prosecutor said.
The neighbors saw the victim on her knees begging for Chang to stop and heard her say, "You're killing me," Carney said, adding that her son then repeatedly "blasted her with jets of flame."
"At that point, she had been fatally injured. It was just a matter of time," the prosecutor said, calling the crime scene "absolutely horrific" and one of the worst he's seen.
The woman -- who was found unconscious on the back patio -- died five days later as a result of her injuries.
Chang was arrested at the house and has remained in custody since then.
He spent time in a state mental hospital after being declared mentally incompetent in November 2014, then was returned to San Fernando after authorities determined that he was mentally competent to stand trial.
As a result of Chang's plea, two other counts -- torture and mayhem -- were dismissed, along with a case that had been filed charging him with possession of an improvised knife while in custody, the prosecutor said.