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Woman set on fire testifies against ex-boyfriend

Jonathon White, 28, is charged with attempted murder. He is accused of setting his ex-girlfriend, Jessica Cameron, on fire outside a Tim Hortons last December.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Jonathon White, 28, is charged with attempted murder.  He is accused of setting his ex-girlfriend, Jessica Cameron, on fire outside a Tim Hortons last December.

Following a morning of emotional testimony from Cameron herself, the prosecution rested. 

As the defense began its the case in the afternoon, White's attorney moved to dismiss the case on the grounds that the prosecution failed to prove intent but the judge denied the motion.

Cameron sustained extensive burns to her face, head, and hands. She spent several months in the burn unit at ECMC and is still recovering from her physical injuries.

She testified that she first met White in April of 2011.  They were friends before entering into a romantic relationship, she said. 

Cameron told jurors she made the decision to end her relationship with White in the summer of 2018.  She said when she told White, he "wouldn't acknowledge it." 

White and Cameron had been in a relationship for more than seven years and have four children together. At the time of the incident, Cameron had already moved out and had started dating someone else, according to prosecutors.

Cameron said she moved out in December of 2018 and went to live with her mother because of their continued fighting and White's drinking.

She said she started a new relationship with a person named Matthew Corah in December.  On December 17th, Cameron said she and her children were video-chatting on Facebook with White. Her phone died and Matthew offered his phone, she said. 

Credit: Pool camera
Prosecutors present a photo of the victim and her new acquaintance and co-worker as evidence. Oct. 24, 2019. (Robert Kirkham/Buffalo News)

Cameron said when she went to work at Tim Hortons, White messaged her, said he was hungry and wanted to get food and talk to her.   She said when she met him by the dumpster, he questioned her relationship about Matthew.  She says she asked him why he wanted to meet her by the dumpster, where no one could see them.

Cameron testified she knew something was not right when she noticed an apple juice container by the dumpster.  When she asked White if he was going to hurt her, she said he responded "yes."

She said White took the apple juice container, opened it and poured the entire contents over her head.  She said she could smell gasoline as the liquid was poured over her head. 

Cameron said she was initially in shock and that once she turned around, she was on fire.  The first thing she noticed was the heat and burning pain everywhere. 

She said she remembers a co-worker bringing water, trying to put out the fire on her body.  After that, she remembers begin taken to ECMC in an ambulance. 

Cameron was in the hospital for four months and had about a dozen surgeries so far.  She said in court her children have also had counseling since the incident.

The jury was shown video and still images from the surveillance cameras at the Tim Hortons.  Cameron's family was also in the courtroom during her testimony.  They wiped their eyes and covered their mouths in shock as the images were shown on the screen.

Credit: Pool camera
Christina Cameron, Jessica's mom, listens to testimony

When she was asked by the prosecutor if the man who set her on fire was in the room, and if she could identify him, Cameron pointed to White. 

During cross-examination, Cameron testified that some of the 'triggers' in her relationship with White were his infidelity and excessive drinking.  "He wasn't there when I needed him," she told White's attorney. 

White's defense attorney asked Cameron about her history with White before December 2018. 

She testified that she and White frequently argued about her relationship with Matthew and friend Alexis Curtis. Curtis testified earlier in the day. She also recalled a moment after her senior prom with White.  She said White pushed her onto a bed, tore his pants and cut his legs. He took the blood from his cuts and wiped it on her. 

Credit: Pool camera
Jonathon White

The defense called Jonathon White as their only witness. 

White testified that within their first year of dating, he and Cameron had a child that was put up for adoption.  He said because of 'legalities,' he didn't have much say in the adoption.  

He said he and Cameron had broken up and then got back together again.  He also testified that they had lived on and off at different periods during the time they had two children together. 

White told the court that he had used gas cans that were found at his residence to hold fuel for the lawnmower.

He also referenced earlier testimony about his drinking, saying he "had a problem."

White talked about accessing Cameron's Facebook page. He says it was out of curiosity, not to be controlling.  

Talking about Cameron, White testified that he attributed changes in her demeanor to her sister dying in July of 2018.

He claimed he tried to overdose and that he didn't really expect Cameron to change her mind about their relationship.  He said he tried to "take a bunch of pills" and the Cameron "didn't really do anything."

White testified that Cameron would tell people they were not together, but she would carry on with him as if they still were together. 

On the morning of December 17, the day the incident occurred, White said he had a video call with Cameron and his children.  The call ended because Cameron's phone died, but White said he still wanted to talk to Cameron "one last time."

He says he walked out of his home that day, with an apple juice container filled with 1"-2" of gasoline in it and "this could work."  He said the gas was supposed to be thrown away after some car work had been done. 

He testified that he went to the Tim Hortons to talk to Cameron with the gas can. It was then, he said he thought, "I'm going to burn myself to death."

White said when he got to the Tim Hortons, he asked Cameron to bring him a cigarette and then put a little bit of liquid that was in a juice container in a water bottle that he put in his pocket.

He testified that he put the container on the ground near his backpack.  When Cameron came out, he started asking her questions and pacing after they both lit their own cigarettes using his lighter. He says he asked Cameron about her relationship with Matthew.  He also asked her about the kids and if she was okay to still take care of them. 

White told jurors that at one point, while he was asking questions, he pulled the bottle with gasoline in it out of his pocket and began pouring the gas on himself.  He claimed he and Cameron struggled with the bottle as she tried to take it out of his hand.  At the same time, he said, he pulled his lighter out of his pocket.  White says he felt gasoline go down his back. 

White says at some point, the lighter went off and sparked.  His attorney asked, "But your hair wasn't damaged?" White responded by saying, "my head was literally on fire."

He said he didn't even realize Cameron was on fire, but that he felt the flames on himself.  He said he took his own clothes off and tried to get some snow from the ground and put it on his head. 

He said he heard someone yell 'stop-drop and roll' and thought that person was yelling at him.  When he realized Cameron was on fire, he claims he tried to help her. He said he intended to hurt himself and not her. 

During cross examination, the prosecutor asked White about the extent of his injuries.  When asked if he needed to re-learn how to walk, White said, because of how long he was in the hospital, he had to regain mobile dexterity after his treatment. 

White said he's not denying any responsibility in causing Cameron's injuries.  When asked if her injuries were his fault, he said "yes."  

White said, while on the stand, that it seemed the prosecution was trying to "add some element of premeditation to this," after being asked about going to Tim Hortons with gasoline. White said he didn't plan to kill himself when he left the house with the gasoline, but that he thought about it on the way to Tim Hortons. 

When asked by the prosecutor "You had the lighter in your hand, you lit Jessica Cameron on fire?"  White answered "Ultimately, yes." When asked if the lighter over went off on him, he answered, "no."

The prosecution focused on changes between White's original statement in December and his testimony Thursday.  The prosecution asked White about the original statement he gave to investigators after the incident.  He says he didn't have full recollection when asked why today was the first  time the apple juice container of gasoline came up. He said today (Thursday) was the first day he was ever asked about the apple juice container.  He also said he was heavily sedated before being interviewed by investigators about the incident.

White told the courtroom his eye had been burned shut as a result of the incident.  During this testimony, the jury is being shown images of Cameron from the police body cameras.  One of the images shown is of Cameron, without a shirt on, being treated by EMTs. 

The prosecution pointed out that the K9 at the scene did not detect gasoline on White's clothes but did detect gasoline on Cameron's clothes. The prosecution says White never asked about Cameron's well-being after the incident.  

When shown a picture of Cameron with Matthew Corah, White claimed that was the first time he had ever seen that picture. 

Following his testimony, the defense rested their case.  Defense Attorney, Joseph Terranova moved again to try and get the charges dismissed against White.  Terranova said that according to his client's testimony, Cameron's actions could have caused the gasoline to get on her body.  "It's clear from his testimony, that he could not have intended to initially try to cause the death of Jessica Cameron."  The judge has denied the motion.

The jury has been instructed to return Friday morning.

The first witness to testify Thursday was Alexis Curtis, a former co-worker of Cameron's at Tim Hortons. Curtis said in court that she saw a December 17 Facebook post showing Cameron and a person she says Cameron had begun a new relationship.

Credit: Poll Camera
Witness Alexis Curtis, 19, talks about the day it happened while she was working the drive-thru.

Curtis testified that she and Cameron were both scheduled to work at Tim Hortons on the day the incident happened. She said Cameron went out to meet White at the dumpsters around 3pm.  Shortly after that, she testified that another co-worker came into the restaurant and said call 911. A customer in the drive-thru told them a person was on fire, she said. 

Curtis testified White would frequently log on to Cameron's Facebook page and check her messages without consent. Curtis said that when she would visit Cameron and White at their home, they would argue frequently.

Audrey Horner, a nurse practitioner from ECMC, also took the stand to describe Cameron's injuries.  She had burns to her face, back, neck, chest and hands.   Horner said the injuries could be described as 'deep dermal burns," which are beyond the normal scale used to measure burns.  Horner said that if Cameron had not received treatment, she would have died. 

Credit: Pool Camera
Victim Jessica Cameron gives her account saying she watched Mr. White pour a container of gasoline over her head and set her on fire with his lighter.

Also testifying Thursday was City of Tonawanda Police Officer Kyle Gallivan testified his encounter with White after the incident.  He testified that White told him, "take me to jail."  Gallivan said White said that about three times. 

The prosecution rested their case following Gallivan's testimony. Court was adjourned for lunch until 2:15 pm. 

On Wednesday, several police officers from the City of Tonawanda Police department testified about arriving on-scene following the 911 call and the investigation that followed. 

“78 seconds, Jessica Cameron was engulfed in flames. As the flames tore through her body, Jessica was awake and alert,” said the prosecution in its opening statement.

We asked Attorney Barry Covert for outside legal analysis on the case.

Reporter: "What kind of impact do you think it has on the jurors to see Jessica get up there and tell her side of the story."

Covert: "It's devastatingly emotional for a jury to hear a victim who comes up in front of them and they see the injuries."

As the defense and prosecution have both rested, closing arguments are set to begin Friday morning.

Covert says the jury's decision will depend on whether or not they found White's testimony to be credible. 

He explained, "If they don't believe him fully, they're gonna come back fairly quickly with a guilty verdict."

2 On Your Side's Karys Belger is in court following the trial and will have real-time updates on her Twitter page. 

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