Woman charged with attempted capital murder in Bedford fire

Posted Monday, Nov. 05, 2012  comments  Print Reprints
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A woman who was critically burned in a Bedford house fire she claimed was set by her ex-girlfriend has been indicted on charges that she actually started the blaze that almost killed her elderly parents, who had to use walkers to escape.

Authorities believe that Ronna Faris doused herself with gasoline to set the fire in her then-Bedford home in May 2010. She was burned on over 60 percent of her body.

A Tarrant County grand jury returned the indictment against Faris in late October on a charge of attempted capital murder and arson.

Faris, 44, now of Arlington, was taken into custody Monday in Fort Worth. Her bond was set at $500,000.

"It was a very complicated case," said Bedford police Sgt. Jerry Buford. "The grand jury took as much time as they needed to reach a decision."

The Tarrant County district attorney's office declined to comment on any details.

Faris blamed Olufunke Whitehead, 45, for starting the fire and burning her, telling paramedics and Bedford police that the woman had broken into her Bedford home where she lived with her parents and started the fire.

Whitehead, who at one point was arrested in the case, has repeatedly told the Star-Telegram that she was not Faris' girlfriend and that she did not start the fire.

"Oh, God. Thank you God," Whitehead said Monday, after learning that Faris was being charged with starting the fire. "This is the best news ever. My family has been living under a dark cloud for so long."

Authorities said Monday that Whitehead does not face any charges.

'She punched me'

In a previous Star-Telegram interview, Whitehead said she met Faris through the Internet in April 2010.

Within days, Whitehead said, Faris became verbally abusive toward her. Whitehead said she remained friends with Faris because the woman seemed depressed and was never able to leave her home because she had to care for her parents.

"She may have fallen in love with me because I was kind to her," said Whitehead, a widow and mother of four children. "I never intended it to be a sexual relationship."

The relationship turned violent a week before the fire.

Faris had reported that Whitehead assaulted her on May 11, 2010, at the home in the 1000 block of Woodland Terrace in Bedford. Faris went to the Bedford police station after the incident but declined to pursue charges, police said.

Whitehead said that she had gone to Faris' home that day to retrieve a house key she had given Faris and Faris just "flipped out."

"She punched me," Whitehead said. "She was about to punch me again when I hit her."

Two days before the fire, Bedford police responded to a call at the Bedford home for an "emergency mental detention" and Faris was taken to a hospital for observation and released a few hours later, friends have said.

Failed polygraph test

On May 18, the morning of the fire, Whitehead said she was asleep at her then-Irving home with three of her children, ages 18, 17 and 14.

The blaze was reported at 3 a.m. as heavy smoke poured through a front window. The fire destroyed the house.

Oscar Faris, who died in August 2011, told Bedford fire investigators that he was awakened when he heard his daughter screaming that she was on fire. He and his wife had to use their walkers to escape the blaze.

Faris told paramedics that Whitehead had poured gas on her and started the fire as she lay on a couch in the house. She also told authorities that she and Whitehead had been romantically involved but were breaking up.

Based on those statements, police arrested Whitehead a few days later.

"We didn't want her [Whitehead] to disappear," Bedford police Lt. Kirk Roberts said in an August 2010 interview with the Star-Telegram. "And we wanted to make sure that evidence would not be destroyed."

Police also said Whitehead, who posted $25,000 bail shortly after her arrest, failed a polygraph test.

Whitehead has no criminal history in Tarrant or Dallas County.

"I'm not surprised," she said in a 2010 interview about failing the polygraph test. "I'm terrified when I talk about fires because I was burned 20 years ago when my clothes caught fire."

Troubled past

Relatives and friends rallied to Faris' side after she was burned. Days after the fire, friends established a Faris Family Assistance Fund to help her parents with repairs to the home.

Friends also established a Prayers for Ronna Faris page on Facebook.

Faris, who is still rehabilitating from her burn injuries, only started walking again just a few months ago, according to her Facebook page.

Tarrant County criminal court records show that Faris has had a troubled past.

She was sentenced to 10 years' probation with deferred adjudication in 1986 for aggravated robbery with a deadly weapon for a holdup in Euless.

In 2003, Faris, her parents and six other people were indicted for selling counterfeit Microsoft software, receiving about $1.5 million in proceeds, according to federal documents. Faris was sentenced to 33 months in prison, while her father received three years' probation. Charges were dismissed against her mother, according to federal court records.

Whitehead said Monday that Faris had tried to contact her through Facebook in December.

"She said she forgave me," said Whitehead, who called Bedford police and asked them to tell Faris not to contact her again. "I can forgive her for what she put me through, but I can't forget what she put my family through for so long."

This report includes information from Star-Telegram archives.

Domingo Ramirez Jr., 817-390-7763

Twitter: @mingoramirezjr

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