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WATER VALLEY – The trial scheduled for Billy Brooks, the man accused of burning a mobile home where a body was found in 2020 and gunning down a former state representative in 2021 was canceled following an unusual turn last week in one of the most high-profile crimes in the county in decades. Brooks was scheduled for trial on charges of arson and first degree murder during a special term in Yalobusha County Circuit Court on Nov. 27, but prosecutors filed an order last week dismissing the cause without prejudice that was granted by the judge.
District Attorney Jay Hale reported that dismissing the cause without prejudice means the charges can be presented to a grand jury a second time for possible re-indictment. Brooks remains charged with the crimes and although the terms “charged” and “indicted” are often used interchangeably, in legal terms there is a difference. Being charged means an individual is believed to have committed a crime, and being indicted means that a grand jury has found enough evidence to formally accuse a defendant in the charges, triggering the court proceedings.
“Brooks is still a suspect. He is still out on bond, he is still wearing an ankle monitor,” Hale explained. “This is not final resolution, we will proceed to a new grand jury. We felt like we needed more time to get some things straight on our end in this investigation.”
Brooks was indicted by a grand jury for first degree arson in the Dec. 26, 2020 fire at a mobile home located at 12 Pat Drive in the Boat Landing community west of Water Valley. An occupant, Kristina Michelle Jones, was discovered deceased inside the home after firefighters extinguished the blaze. Her death has not been ruled a homicide.
Brooks was also indicted for first degree murder in the June 13, 2021 death of Ashley Henley, the sister-in-law of Jones. The dismissal means that both indictments are null.
Henley, a Republican who represented House District 40 in Desoto County from 2016 to 2020 was shot in Yalobusha County while mowing grass outside the burned mobile home where Jones was found dead. Her murder attracted national scrutiny after multiple media outlets reported Henley told friends that she was digging into the investigation into Jones’ death and had discovered something big. Approximately a week or 10 days after that conversation, she was shot in head, according to previous reports.
Brooks was arrested for arson in the 2020 fire on June 18, 2021, five days after Henley was killed.
A grand jury later indicted Brooks for first degree arson on February 24, 2022. He posted a $75,000 bail and was released from custody.
Brooks was indicted by a grand jury for the murder charge three months later, June 30, 2022, as the second count for first degree murder was added to the original indictment for arson. The indictment was served on July 5, 2022, and he was taken back into custody on the murder charge. He posted bail a second time and was released with stipulations that included wearing an ankle monitor.
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Hale reported that prosecutors met with family members of the victims before filing the order to dismiss the cause. Hale told the Herald that he has requested law enforcement officials including the Yalobusha County Sheriff’s Department and the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation (MBI) agent to continue with the investigation.
“We have an investigator from MBI who has agreed to come in and help with assistance from the Yalobusha County Sheriff’s Department,” Hale added.
The dismissal order came during a hearing at the Panola County courthouse in Sardis on Nov. 13., two weeks before the scheduled trial. The motion cited voluminous discovery in the case, evidence that includes thousands of pages of records gathered during the investigation.
“After reviewing the case for trial, attorneys for the State requested additional time to fully investigate and review this matter,” the order states.
“Because it is not possible to estimate the timeframe needed to complete this investigation, the State requests that the current indictment be dismissed without prejudice. Therefore, the State will be capable of re-presenting this case to the grand jury at a later date. Counsel for the Defendant has no objection to the State’s request.”
A Surprise To The Defendant
Sources report that the prosecutor’s motion came as a surprise to the defendant, and his attorney was preparing to argue a different motion during the Nov. 13 hearing. Peeples had previously filed a Motion to Sever with the court on October 30. The motion requested the charges to be severed, asking the judge to prohibit the State of Mississippi from trying Brooks for the offenses of arson and murder at the same time. The motion argued that Brooks’ charges of arson and murder were not based on the same act or transaction nor were the alleged offenses based on two or more acts or transactions connected together or constituted parts of a common scheme or plan.
Citing a ruling by the Mississippi Supreme Court in Singleton v. State, the Motion to Sever outlined three criteria a trial court must consider for the charges to be jointly tried. The motion stated that none of the criteria had been met.
Judge Smith Murphey had been expected to rule on the Motion to Sever during the Nov. 13 hearing but the new motion ended the current court action.