Transgender activist Nikki Joly of Jackson, IL, whose five pets were killed in a 2017 house fire, has been accused of intentionally setting the blaze, according to The Detroit News.
Two German Shepherds and three cats died in the two-story blaze that was initially investigated as a hate crime by the FBI and local law enforcement.
Investigators found traces of gasoline in five rooms on the first floor of the wooden-frame house, according to the police report, while Joly was found to have bought $10 of gas at a local gas station the morning of the fire "so he could cut his grass," according to the report. Joly stopped halfway through because it was too hot out, while police say the sequence of events "would have made it difficult for anyone but Joly to set the fire."
He went to work at the church and got a call from Moore at 1:02 p.m., said the report. Moore had forgotten to pack her lunch so asked Joly to bring it to her at work. The couple share one car.
Joly returned home, which was two miles away, went inside for a minute or two, and left, he told police.
The fire was reported by neighbors at 1:16 p.m.
The sequence of events would have made it difficult for anyone but Joly to set the fire, Grove said in the police report. -The Detroit News
"The timeline shows a window of less than five minutes for another person to enter the residence, splash gasoline around, ignite the fire and then leave without being scene," wrote police detective Aaron Grove.
Two weeks after the fire, Joly was questioned by two FBI agents and a city police detective.
During the interview, he drooped his head, staring at the floor, not looking at his interlocutors, according to the report. He didn’t admit setting the fire and didn’t deny it, either. -The Detroit News
The arrest of Joly, a biological woman who identifies as a man, came as a surprise to the gay community in Jackson, as Joly helped open the city's first gay community center and was a co-organizer of the city's first gay festival - earning the Citizen of the Year award by a local paper.
Authorities later determined the fire was intentionally set, but the person they arrested came as a shock to both supporters and opponents of the gay rights movement. It was the citizen of the year — Nikki Joly.
“It’s embarrassing,” said Travis Trombley, a gay resident who fought for the ordinance. “How do you do it to the community you have put so much effort into helping?”
Why Joly, 54, would allegedly burn down his home remains a mystery. He didn’t own the house, which was insured by its owner, police said.
His attorney said the lack of a motive cast doubt on the case. -The Detroit News
The police report suggests a motive, however; two people who worked with Joly at St. Johns United Church of Christ, where the Jackson Price Center is located, said the trans activist was "frustrated the controversy over gay rights had died down," and that the Jackson Pride Parade and Festival - held five days before the fire, "hadn't received more attention or protests."
Barbara Shelton questioned the police's version of her statement, telling the Detroit News "Not sure I said that," in an email, adding "I have no idea about anything, never heard Nikki comment in any fashion about anything like that."
According to Joly's attorney, Daniel Barnett, "It doesn’t make sense," adding "He was citizen of the year. There was plenty of media coverage already before the fire."
While Joly was stoic in public, he could be abrupt, even combative in private, said acquaintances. He was headstrong, unwilling to have his views challenged by others.
He also could be deceptive, Shelton and James said in the police investigative report.
One year after the pride center opened, Joly broke it away from the church. Unknown to church officials, Joly had secured nonprofit status for the center, Shelton told police.
Shelton said she felt betrayed because she was the one who secured the original funding for the center by applying for several grants.
“Shelton and James both described Nikki as very deceptive and stated that when it comes to Nikki there are ‘layers of manipulation,’” police detective Aaron Grove wrote in the report. -The Detroit News
Local drag queen Jeff Graves said that he was alarmed by the details of the investigation, and said that if Joly is found guilty, he will try to claw back donations raised for the transgender activist's legal defense.
"I feel as though I was used for a money scam," said Graves. "It hurt and it still does."