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By David Howell
WATER VALLEY – The Yalobusha County Sheriff’s Department reported the first break in an investigation that has captured national attention following the deaths of two women in the Water Valley Boat Landing community during the last six months. Yalobusha County Sheriff Mark D. Fulco reported that Billy Brooks, 42, was charged with first degree arson last Friday, charges that stem from his alleged role in the Dec. 26, 2020 fire at a mobile home at 12 Pat Drive where Kristina Michelle Brooks was found inside dead.
Brooks was booked in the Yalobusha County Detention Center at 5:36 p.m. on June 18 and is being held without bond. The arrest is a result of the combined investigative efforts of the Yalobusha County Sheriff’s Office, the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation and the State Fire Marshall’s Office.
The arrest came five days after Jones’ sister-in-law was found murdered at the same location Sunday afternoon. Ashley Henley, a former state representative, was cutting the grass outside the burned mobile home when she was shot.
Fulco released a statement to media outlets Monday afternoon, explaining the investigations into the death of Jones, and the subsequent death of her sister-in-law, Henley, on June 13, 2021 are active and ongoing. Monday’s statement also stressed the importance of protecting the integrity of the ongoing investigations.
“As the investigations develop, information will be released as appropriate,” Fulco told the Herald.
Ashley Henley, 40, was a former state representative of District 40 in DeSoto County from 2016 – 2020, serving as vice chair of the House Military Affairs Committee and as a member of the Education, Tourism, Workforce Development and Youth and Family Affairs committees. She lost her reelect bid by 14 votes in 2019.
Before her death, Ashley Henley had been critical of the pace of the investigation into her sister’s death. In April she and her husband, Brandon Henley, explained they had waited for information about Jones’ death long enough. Posting on social media, they criticized the lack of cooperation from authorities. Sources reported that she had been conducting an independent investigation into Jones’ death.
Speaking to the Herald last week, Jubera explained that investigators did not get the autopsy report on Jones until late May, critical information that provided more details about Jones’ death.
“We had to regroup and look at everything from the beginning in light of the lab reports,” Jubera explained. “It is an extremely complicated case that takes an extreme amount of time and patience to work.”
Autopsy results in Mississippi often take months, even up to a year to receive, valuable time that often hampers investigations. Last month WLBT reported there were around 100 autopsies outstanding, creating a backlog. Yalobusha County Coroner Ronnie Stark told the Herald that during the height of the pandemic last year, bodies were stored in 18-wheeler trailers outside the state medical examiner’s office in Jackson waiting for autopsies.
Henley’s body was sent to the state medical examiners office in Jackson Monday morning, more than a week after her death.
“Nothing hurts more than the loss of a loved, especially ones who are taken from us too soon,” Fulco said. “I want to extend my sympathy to the family members. I want you to know that we are doing everything possible to bring justice and closure in these two cases.”