In a case much like Jussie Smollett's, Michigan authorities are accusing an LGBTQ rights leader of burning his own home down, and killing his pets.
On August 10, 2017, Nikki Joly’s home in Jackson, Michigan was burned down. At the time, it was believed that the incident was a hate crime against the transgender man and gay rights activist.
At the time, Joly said that he was "really in shock for quite a while.” But, the Detroit News now reports that 54-year-old Joly is being accused of burning the house himself.
The authorities have charged Joly for allegedly setting the fire to his home, which killed his two dogs and three cats. Police say they ruled out the hate crime theory investigating the fire.
"We determined it pretty quickly to be an arson," said town director of police and fire services Elmer Hitt. "We investigated it over what probably was a year’s time before the prosecutor ended up issuing charges.”
According to the Detroit Free Press, police began to suspect Nikki Joly after looking through phone records, physical evidence, and getting witness statements. A report published by MLive.com says that Joly had the “means and opportunity to start the fire.”
Then, police found security surveillance of Joly filling a gas can before the fire. They pieced this together with the fact that gasoline was on Joly’s clothes and a witness smelling gas on him.
Andrew Abood, Joly’s attorney, says this is all a coincidence.
"What they have is a coincidence and a coincidence is not proof beyond reasonable doubt," Abood said to MLive. "They are trying to convict on circumstantial evidence and theory when they have no direct evidence in the case."
Before this charge, Nikki Joly was considered a hero among the community. He received the citizen of the year award in 2018. But his passion for activism is what’s being billed as the motive.
According to The Hill, a police report suggests that Joly was frustrated over dwindling support for gay rights activism in the town. This need for attention then allegedly led to the fire.
The report also references witness testimonies from St. Johns United Church of Christ workers Barbara Shelton and Bobby James. They allegedly said that Nikki Joly was upset by the lack of protests for the Jackson Pride Parade and Festival.
Shelton later refuted these claims by saying, “Not sure I said that. I have no idea about anything, never heard Nikki comment in any fashion about anything like that."
“It doesn’t make sense,” Daniel Barnett added on the issue and charge. “He was citizen of the year. There was plenty of media coverage already before the fire.”
Nonetheless, a charge has been made and Nikki Joly will have to prove his innocence in court. He will have to begin doing so at the first hearing on March 8 at the Jackson County Circuit Court.