Wife’s claim: He set me on fire

Published 1:03 am Wednesday, March 21, 2018

On trial for attempted murder, husband calls fire accidental

A Covington County jury saw gruesome photographs of a victim’s burns Tuesday, and heard conflicting stories about her injuries in a case in which a former husband is charged with attempted murder.

Justin Corey Andrews is charged with attempted murder in a fire that severely burned his wife, Stephanie Dawn Andrews, in November of 2014. The two are no longer married.

Stephanie Andrews told investigators in 2014 and again in 2015 that her husband threw alcohol on her and set her on fire after she told him she wanted a divorce. She maintained that version of the story while on the stand Tuesday for the state, and the jury watched a video of the interview conducted by Opp Police Department Investigator Heather Koerner in the ambulance, in which Mrs. Andrews detailed the alleged attack.

Justin Andrews had previously told investigators that he had just awakened, used the restroom, lighted a cigarette, poured a Diet Mt. Dew, and sat down beside his wife on a loveseat, when the flames from his cigarette ignited alcohol his wife was using “to clean her fingernails.”

But on the stand Tuesday, he said that when he sat down, he said “something sexual, like a husband would say” to his wife, and that she waved a napkin toward his face and said something like, “You better shut up.”

At that time, he claimed Tuesday, the napkin ignited from his cigarette. He said his wife screamed, threw the alcohol into the air and stood up.

“I jumped up, and fire was everywhere, as soon as she throwed alcohol into the air,” Andrews said.

Andrews also testified that he poured his Mt. Dew over his wife’s head to try to put out the flames, used a quilt to try to smother the flames, and then put her in the shower, where he removed the showerhead to ensure a steadier flow of water to put the fire out.

He testified that he then picked her up and put her on the porch, dialed 911 from his cell phone, and handed that phone to his wife while he went back inside to remove the burning loveseat and “stomp out” flames in the carpet.

But the jury also heard a recording of that 911 call, in which Mrs. Andrews told the dispatcher her husband “set me on fire with a lighter.” During the call, she pleads for an ambulance, and can be heard telling her husband to “get away from me.” In the background, he is heard saying, “I didn’t mean to.”

Paramedic Jarred Martin, who treated Mrs. Andrews at the scene and until a helicopter arrived to transport her to the burn center at the University of South Alabama Medical Center, testified that when Justin Andrews came to the ambulance, “she became hysterical, and her heart rate went up on the monitor.”

He described the experience as “one of those calls you never forget.”

The jury saw photographs of Mrs. Andrews’ burns as she was being treated in the ambulance that day, and as she was recovering at her mother’s home in January of 2015. The photos showed burns on her head, face, hairline, chest, arms and back.

Justin Andrews also was transferred to USA, where he also was treated for burns.

Andrews was charged with attempted murder after he was released from the hospital. He testified that Stephanie Andrews visited him in the jail in July of 2015, and told him that she “remembered things didn’t happen like she originally said they did,” that she was sorry, and that she would “get it all straightened out.”

Andrews testified that he now lives in Panama City and has remarried. He said his ex-wife, Stephanie Andrews, has actually shown up at his house and asked to move in.

Asked by his attorney, Corey Bryan, if he intentionally set his wife on fire, Andrews said, “I loved my wife. I still love my wife to this day.” He also added that the “whole thing was an accident,” and “I have never tried to hurt my wife.”

Despite objections from the defense, in rebuttal, the state’s prosecutor, Grace Jeter, put Stephanie Andrews back on the stand and asked her if Justin Andrews had ever hurt her before the incident in which she was burned. Mrs. Andrews testified, “He busted my lip and broke my nose. He broke my leg. My rib. And he bruised my left leg.”

Justin Andrews also testified that at the time of the fire, his wife had recently been treated at a mental health facility in Ft. Walton. He said she had about seven prescription medications at the time of the fire, but had not taken her medications for several days.

Stephanie Andrews told investigators that she was taking the medications every other day, rather than as prescribed, for economic reasons.

Both the state and the defense rested Tuesday afternoon. Presiding Circuit Judge Lex Short set closing arguments for 9 a.m. Wednesday.