Man Accused of Setting Girlfriend on Fire

JUNE 3, 2005 -- A Wilmington woman is trying to recover from massive burns while her boyfriend sits in jail, charged with setting her on fire.

Perlie Nelson is in the Chapel Hill Burn Center where doctors say she is literally burned to the bone.

Nelson lived with her boyfriend, John Lee Michaels, in Greenville.

Police say last Friday Michaels called 911, saying he and his girlfriend were grilling out when she suddenly caught fire. When police arrived, they quickly discovered the two grills on the property had not been used.

"We've spoken to the D.A. on this matter and feel there is probable cause to arrest him for pouring lighter fluid on her and setting her on fire," says Chief Lee Moore.

Judy Brock still can't believe someone would do something so gruesome to another human being, much less her own flesh and blood. Her daughter has third- and fourth-degree burns to 35 percent of her upper body.

Mrs. Brock said the night her daughter was burned, she was warned something terrible could happen.

"That night she said Mama, you won't recognize me. I said why. She said because he's beaten me black and blue. He's been beating me all week," says Brock.

Landlord and neighbor Austin Hardee describes seeing Nelson right after she was set on fire.

"I noticed some type of clothing laying on the ground smoldering and as I went in I could see Pearl. She was standing there and I could see that she had been burned. At that time he [Michaels] handed me the phone. He was on the phone with 911," says Hardee.

Perlie Nelson's mother, now knowing her daughter was in a volatile relationship, has this advice for women who find themselves in similar situations.

"If you are arguing and he's hitting, get out," says Brock.