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Victim, accused testify in trial of man setting ex-girlfriend on fire

Thomas O'Neil-White

Taking the stand for his murder trial Thursday afternoon, Johnathon White said his motive was to kill himself on Dec. 17, 2018. White was charged with murder in the second degree for pouring gasoline on ex-girlfriend Jessica Cameron and lighting her on fire, according to prosecutors.

White spoke in a low voice and often mumbled throughout his testimony.

Blaming his emotional state that fateful day on the deterioration of his relationship with Cameron and their children, White said he had ideas to commit suicide later that day after meeting Cameron and wanted to talk to her one last time for closure. He thought he would commit suicide by lighting himself on fire.

It was there, in a dumpster area behind a City of Tonawanda Tim Horton’s restaurant where they both worked, that Cameron and White were set on fire. White said there was a struggle with the apple juice container full of gasoline. He took it and started pouring it on himself. He grabbed a lighter out of his pocket in an effort to set himself ablaze.

White testified he lit himself on fire, but does not remember much afterward or how Cameron caught on fire. He did remember taking off his shirt to help put out her flames.

Cameron received severe burns to her upper body and face, and required several finger to be amputated.

In harrowing testimony earlier on Thursday, Cameron recounted the moment before she was set on fire. Asked what, if anything, she said to White before the assault, she said “Are you going to hurt me?” She said White’s response was “yes,” before dousing Cameron with gasoline and setting her ablaze.

Credit Thomas O'Neil-White
Defense Attorney Joseph Terranova

As the prosecution showed photos of the scene that day, Cameron said she remembered being in “indescribable pain." She felt the heat and saw the flames. She tried to take off her clothes and remove her glasses to avoid being burned.

During four months of treatment at Erie County Medical Center, Cameron said she had 12 surgeries and physical and speech therapy. She testified she had to re-learn how to open and close her eyes and mouth. Nurse practitioner Audrey Horner also took the stand to describe the severity of Cameron's injuries. She said the surgeries included a tracheotomy and amputation of fingers.

White's defense argued the couple fought over the bottle of gasoline, with the gasoline spilling on both of them. White then prepared to self-immolate with a lighter, causing them both to catch fire.

Cameron said a pattern of abuse and heavy drinking by White had developed over the years, culminating with Cameron and their three children moving out of the apartment they shared with White and another man.

Cameron’s friend and co-worker Alexis Curtis also testified. Curtis said Cameron warned her the night of the assault that she was meeting White behind Tim Horton's and to check on her if she did not return in 10 minutes. Cameron testified that White called her to get food and talk about their relationship that night.

The prosecution and defense have both rested their cases. The trial resumes Friday at 9:30 a.m. with closing arguments.

The defense requested the charge of attempted murder in the second degree be dismissed on the grounds Cameron’s burns were caused by Cameron herself, but the judge threw out the request.

Born in Louisville, Kentucky, Thomas moved to Western New York at the age of 14. A graduate of Buffalo State College, he majored in Communications Studies and was part of the sports staff for WBNY. When not following his beloved University of Kentucky Wildcats and Boston Red Sox, Thomas enjoys coaching youth basketball, reading Tolkien novels and seeing live music.
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