Army wife says husband intentionally lit her legs on fire

Army wife says husband intentionally lit her legs on fire »Play Video
Heather Rader testifies Mar. 1, 2012.
OLYMPIA, Wash. -- An Army wife claims her husband set her on fire last year, and now she's trying to convince a Thurston County courtroom that she initially lied about the incident because she was so afraid of him.

Heather Rader says her husband, Army Sgt. Duane Rader, used lighter fluid in an attempt to take her life.

"I started screaming, and looked for a way to get the fire out," she said.

But that's not the story she originally told.

Tapes reveal that on Feb. 13, 2011, she called 911 dispatchers to report that she accidentally spilled lighter fluid on herself. Her husband can be heard yelling in the background.

Dispatcher: "911, what are you reporting?"
Heather Rader: "There was a small fire at my house. The fire is out. I burned my legs and I think I need an ambulance."

She goes on to tell the dispatcher she needs help after filling a lighter and it caught fire:

Dispatcher: "You said that you were filling your Zippo? Tell my why your leg is burned and why is your husband screaming like that?"
Heather Rader: "Duane please..."
Duane Rader: "Get out of here."
Heather Rader: "I don't know. I just..."
Duane Rader: "B---- (expletive)."
Heather Rader: " I need an ambulance."

Later in the call, Heather tells the dispatcher "it was just a really dumb mistake."

Dispatcher: "That's not normal for a husband to act like that when you're hurting... Were you guys having an argument before this happened?"
Heather Radar: "Yes, but he didn't do this to me on purpose. It wasn't .. nothing like that."
Duane Rader: "Leave and don't ever come back."

Six months after the fire, Heather changed her story, saying it was her husband who set her on fire.

She testified that on the night of the fire, her husband poured himself a drink and she asked that he not, and he responded he'd "drink everything in the house if he wanted to."

She said she went upstairs to bed and was awakened when he slammed the door open in a drunken rage.

"He told me that I was evil and that he had a bullet he was going to put in my head," she testified.

She said she tried to leave and as they were in the kitchen, she says he pushed her head into the floor and counter. She says she grabbed her car keys and purse.

"Told me again that I was evil and had to die... and that's when he poured lighter fluid on my legs," Heather Rader said.

"He lit a match, and sort of tossed it onto my legs. I was just laying there. I couldn't move in fear -- I was terrified," she continued. "My legs lit on fire. I started screaming, and looked for a way to get the fire out. And there was a blanket on the couch -- also set the couch on fire."

She says she ran to her room, then to cold water in the bathtub and used aloe vera to stop the burning sensation. She then grabbed her phone to call 911.

"He said it would ruin his whole life if I went to the hospital and said what had happened," she said. "I promised that I wouldn't tell the truth."

She told jurors Thursday that she was too afraid of her husband and that's why she made up the story.

"He stated to me that if I left or told anybody anything about what had been happening at the house that he could hurt me and my daughter," she testified. "He stated that even if he couldn't get to me, others could."

So she said she never told anyone.

"Because I was scared. That what he had told me was true. That he would hurt me, hurt my daughter and I love my daughter too much to let that happen."

She survived with a bit of scarring and now says she hopes to see her husband convicted.

When the trial continues Monday, Duane Rader's defense attorney hopes to show jurors that if Heather Rader lied once, who is to say she's not lying again?