Trial starts for man accused of setting girlfriend on fire

Two witnesses, who discovered a neighbor running through their apartment complex engulfed in flames, testified Tuesday in Clayton County Superior Court that the woman identified her boyfriend as the man who threw gas on her inside her bathtub, and lit a match.

Orville Cromwell Brooks, Jr., 30, faces 16 counts, including aggravated battery and criminal attempt to commit murder in the alleged Jan. 14, 2011 attack on Tara Dania Best.

Brooks reportedly told police that he tried to put out the flames.

But witnesses Kareem Revies and Raphiel Bell said –– under direct examination by Clayton County District Attorney Tracy Graham Lawson –– they saw Brooks running away from the flaming woman. Senior Assistant District Attorney Michael Thurston is assisting in the prosecution.

"I saw him running away from the building," said Revies. "I never saw him help the woman."

Bell called 911. The 7-minute call was played in court. Best could be heard screaming in the background. "'Her boyfriend did it to her,'" Bell told the dispatcher. "'Her boyfriend did it. He's wearing a black coat, he has a bald head. He's running away.'"

When the dispatcher asked Bell if Best was hollering, he told her, "'She's in real bad pain.'"

"'Bless her heart,'" said the dispatcher.

Both men also testified to hearing Best identify the man who doused her with gas and set her afire as Brooks. "She was crying, shaking," said Revies. "She said, 'My mom told me not to come back to this home. I should have listened. I should have got out of the relationship.'"

Bell said he heard Best say she couldn't believe "he did it."

"She said, 'My mom told me to leave him alone,'" testified Revies. "'I can't believe he did it.'"

Best suffered burns over more than 68 percent of her body, with 40 percent being third-degree, according to court records.

Best also testified, Tuesday. She said she couldn't remember how she got into the bathtub at the couple's Brookstone apartment. However, she had no doubt about what happened. Best testified that she couldn't talk above a whisper in the weeks after the incident, but was able to tell her mother that Brooks poured gas on her and set her on fire.

"The first thing I remember at the hospital was being set on fire," said Best. "I didn't have to ask anyone what had happened."

Brooks, who is being represented by Rand Csehy, is being held on more than $350,000 bond in the Clayton County Jail.