Defense says man accidentally set girlfriend on fire

The attorney representing a College Park man accused of dousing his girlfriend with gas, and setting her on fire, told a Clayton County jury, Thursday morning, they should acquit his client of arson, because the fire was an accident.

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 the fire was an accident and that he tried to put out the flames.

The jury began deliberations Thursday afternoon, and are expected to resume this morning.

In his closing statement, defense attorney Rand Cshey told jurors that mistakes were made during the investigation.

"Mistakes were made," he said. "There is a failure of proof. Do your job, you must acquit. They failed Tara Best."

Cshey said Brooks had soaked Best's clothes on the floor with gasoline, because he was angry. When she picked up the clothes and held them to her chest while the two talked, Brooks absent-mindedly flicked a lighter, accidentally catching the clothes on fire, he said.

Best suffered burns over nearly 70 percent of her body. She was the first witness to take the stand, Tuesday, and testified that she remembered Brooks setting her on fire.

Clayton County District Attorney Tracy Graham Lawson scoffed at Csehy's version.

"The defendant told a friend of his that he burned his arm when he poured gas on his girlfriend and set her on fire," said Lawson. "There is no doubt it was arson, and it could have been devastating. There is no doubt how horribly disfigured this 20-year-old child is. There is no doubt there was an intent to kill. She knew he meant to kill her."

Lawson said Brooks, who is 10 years older than Best, was controlling and determined to show Best he was the boss.

The two had a brief, but tumultuous relationship, according to witness testimony. Best recounted four previous acts of violence from Brooks. Brooks, who also took the stand in his defense, admitted on the stand to slapping the back of her head one time in anger over a text from another man.