A jury late Friday afternoon found Jonathan White guilty of attempted murder and assault in a case which shocked Western New Yorkers, the dousing and setting aflame of his former girlfriend, Jessica Cameron, last December outside her workplace.
Late last year, White confronted Cameron outside the Tim Hortons location where she worked in the City of Tonawanda, poured gasoline over her and set her on fire. Cameron now lives with permanent damage to her face, upper body and hands.
Sentencing was scheduled for January 3 and White faces up to 25 years in prison, though his attorney, Joseph Terranova, told reporters outside the courtroom an appeal is planned.
Cameron's family was in the courtroom for the verdict but did not comment following proceedings. She took the witness stand Thursday, recalling the events that unfolded just before she was set on fire. Asked if she had said anything to White before the moment, she told the courtroom she had asked White if he intended to hurt her, and heard the reply "yes" just before dousing her with the gasoline.
She required four months of treatment at Erie County Medical Center, including a dozen surgeries, the amputation of fingers and a tracheotomy. Cameron also needed to undergo physical and speech therapy.
White's defense attorney argued the couple fought over the bottle of gasoline, which spilled over both of them. The defense also insisted White was preparing to set himself on fire with a lighter but caused them both to ignite.
The defense had also attempted unsuccessfully to have the attempted murder charge dismissed on the grounds Cameron's burns were self-inflicted. The judge threw out that request.
Erie County District Attorney John Flynn spoke with the media shortly after the verdict was announced.
“He thought in his mind, specifically, to get an empty apple juice container and fill it with gasoline and then bring that gasoline to Tim Hortons,” said Flynn. “His mindset, his intent of doing harm, thinking about that, executing on that harm by dumping it over her head and lighting her on fire, rises to a level of evilness that screams for 25 years here.”
Alongside Flynn were members from the City of Tonawanda Police Department, including Chief William Strassburg who called Cameron's actions heroic.
“The courage she displayed, not only in her recovery, but also in the testimony she provided takes my breath away," said Strassburg. "You and I can only imagine the pain and horror that Jessica experienced the day of this crime. But to have to relive that pain and horror again and again to make sure Jonathan White was held accountable was incredible.”
Flynn said it’s important to note when the Tim Horton's maintenance individual, who happened to be in his car smoking a cigarette in the parking lot and was the first one to see the ball of flames go up outside of Cameron, rushed in to Tim Hortons to get some water, he told one of the employees to call 911.
“And the employee of Tim Hortons called 911 and Chief Strassburg’s crew were there within 45 seconds. That shows right there the professionalism of the City of Tonawanda Police Department and how they reacted and got to that scene right away,” Flynn said.
Flynn said it’s unfortunate the damage had been done by the time the authorities arrived.
“This poor young lady is going to have the damage to her for the rest of her life,” he added. “With that said, this young lady took the witness stand and was couragous beyond belief.”
Flynn said he was confused why it took the jury close to five hours to come to a verdict when he paraphrased White’s defense to, ‘I didn’t do it at all.’ At one point, White testified he was unsure how she got on fire.
“It would have been on thing if he would have said I did it. I dumped the gas on her. I lit her on fire, but I didn’t mean to kill her. I wanted to spook her. I wanted to hurt her. I wanted to shock her,” Flynn said. “Whatever it may be. If he would have said that and testified that, then maybe I could understand the jury pausing and really dig deep on the intent. But he didn’t say that.”
Flynn added this has been a bad year for domestic violence in Erie County as far as homicides are concerned. There have been ten so far. He said Cameron had done nothing wrong in this situation. Cameron had left White a week before the incident.
“She never felt that she was in danger. He was the father of her children. There was no reason he was ever going to do something like that. Meeting him and talking to him in a public parking lot was a perfectly logical thing to do,” Flynn said. “She is a hero here and she, quite frankly, is in a position where she could be a shining beacon for domestic violence victims who can look at her courage and know that if she can handle it, if she can do that, I can do it myself. And I hope that others get that message from her.”
The sentencing is scheduled for January 4, 2020. Flynn said he cannot ask for consecutive sentences. Both the assault charge and the attempted murder charge came out of the same single action. Whenever two crimes arise of the same single action, they have to run concurrently.
Flynn said he wants to make a statement regarding domestic violence and the punishment that comes with this type of crime.
“But that’s secondary to me to giving her justice. Her justice, like I said, screams for 25 years. No less,” he said.
White has been found guilty on both counts, attempted murder and assault. https://t.co/dxIIkvzKhG
— NicholasLippaWBFO (@NicholasLippa) October 25, 2019
Thomas O' Neil-White contributed to this story.