‘Shocks the conscience’: Judge denies bond for man charged with setting his girlfriend on fire, killing her

Published: Nov. 2, 2022 at 8:24 AM CDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - A man charged with murder for allegedly dousing his girlfriend with gas and setting her on fire was denied bond Tuesday in Jackson Municipal Court.

Clarence O’Reilly appeared before Judge June Hardwick Wednesday morning, less than a day after he turned himself into police.

O’Reilly’s charges were upgraded from aggravated assault to murder after the victim, Leslie Brooks, died of her injuries.

Hardwick told the defendant she takes into account multiple factors when setting bond and agreed that he was not a flight risk and did not have a criminal record, something she told O’Reilly could work in his favor down the road.

However, the judge said she couldn’t overlook the nature of the crime. “It’s really egregious and shocks the conscience,” she said. “I can’t imagine the suffering of the [victim]. I can’t wrap my mind around it.”

O’Reilly will be held at the Hinds County Detention Center at least until he appears before a Hinds County Court Judge.

A JPD detective told Hardwick that on September 1, O’Reilly and his girlfriend, Leslie Brooks, got into an argument at a home in the 500 block of W. Ash Street.

Police and firefighters responded to the scene after receiving a call of a house fire and found Brooks “engulfed in flames.” The detective told the court that they believe O’Reilly doused her in gasoline and set her on fire, burning his own hands in the process.

Photos show Leslie Brooks posing. One photo shows her standing next to her sister Johnnitha.
Photos show Leslie Brooks posing. One photo shows her standing next to her sister Johnnitha.(Johnnitha Brooks)

The victim was transported to Merit Heath for treatment and later airlifted to a burn center in Georgia. She suffered third-degree burns on 79 percent of her body, her sister Johnnitha Brooks said.

“It’s most definitely a situation that you can’t... the average person wouldn’t be able to wrap their mind around,” Brooks said outside JPD headquarters Tuesday.

Brooks was pleased with the judge’s decision but didn’t like the fact the O’Reilly’s attorney attempted to use his health conditions to sway the judge’s decision in setting bond. “We are aware that he does have health conditions, but the usage of trying to present his health conditions in this situation, I felt like it was malicious,” she said. “But, you know, it’s a process, of course, so we understand that.”

O’Reilly, according to his attorney, previously had a stroke and heart attack and suffers from brain damage. She also told the court that her client has ties to the community and would not be a flight risk. O’Reilly is related to former City Attorney Sarah O’Reilly-Evans, who served under the late Mayor Frank Melton.

O’Reilly-Evans initially declined to comment outside police headquarters, but later said the charges against her relative were not true and that the victim set herself on fire.

Johnnitha Brooks denied O’Reilly-Evans’ claims. She also takes issue with how her sister’s case was handled. She said the family wasn’t notified until around 5 p.m., September 2, and then they didn’t hear from police, but from the person who reported the incident to dispatchers. That person ran into one of the victim’s sons at the store.

Leslie Brooks had four sons - Kenny, Lerrick and Kendrick Brooks and Kenrell Stevenson - and wanted to open her own restaurant.

She says when the family arrived at the hospital, they were kept in the dark about Leslie’s condition, and told to call JPD’s homicide division. “That was the scariest thing ever, because to think that my sister is somewhere, her body is somewhere and she’s dead,” she said.

Meanwhile, Brooks says she wasn’t able to find out any information from JPD until the following Tuesday, because it was Labor Day weekend.

Officials with Merit Health and JPD were not immediately available for comment.

Leslie Brooks suffered burns over 79 percent her body, her sister said.
Leslie Brooks suffered burns over 79 percent her body, her sister said.(Johnnitha Brooks)

Brooks did get to spend more time with her sister before she died, including sharing the latest Beyonce album with her. Leslie wasn’t able to talk in her final days but was coherent. “I played songs for her. [We] love Beyonce, so I played Beyonce music,” she recalled. “The new album. I said ‘have you heard this one yet? She was like, yes, she had, so she was very coherent up until the time she passed.”

Now, Leslie’s family is focused on not only seeking justice, but keeping her sister’s memory alive. “Leslie was our family glue. She was our cook. She was our mediator. She was the last of what I would say [was] the pure love we had in our family,” Brooks said. “We haven’t even begun the process of grieving her.”

Want more WLBT news in your inbox? Click here to subscribe to our newsletter.