The widower of a former Mississippi legislator who was fatally shot this week — on the same property where his sister's body was found after a trailer fire last year — accused the sheriff overseeing both investigations of "playing politics" and mishandling the probe into his sister's death.
"What happened to my sister was wrong, and it was being handled inappropriately and seemed that there was no interest in finding out what happened," the man, Brandon Henley, told NBC News on Wednesday.
Henley was speaking about his sister, Kristina Michelle Jones, 33, who was found dead Dec. 26 in a trailer that had partly burned down.
Henley is coping with another tragedy since his sister passed — the death of his wife, Ashley Henley, 40, a former Republican state representative. Authorities found her body Sunday night outside the charred trailer where Henley's sister was found.
"The sheriff didn't care until my wife was murdered. The way he tried to handle the case — he's not there for the people, he's there for the politics," Brandon Henley said.
Yalobusha County Sheriff Mark D. Fulco and representatives of his office didn't respond Wednesday to questions about Henley's accusations.
Ashley Henley was a lawmaker from 2016 to 2020 who lost her re-election bid in 2019 by 14 votes. She was outspoken about how she thought her sister-in-law was slain.
"She was an amazing person. She was a gift," Brandon Henley said. "She was standing up and fighting for our rights. It didn't matter who you were — if she saw someone not treated fairly, she was going to speak out about it. If she saw corruption, she was going to call it out. She was dynamite in a very small package. She stood for what was right."
The Henleys erected a sign on the property this spring as a memorial for Jones reading, "I WAS MURDERED." The makeshift tribute displayed pictures of Jones.
Henley said his wife left their South Haven home between 10 and 11 a.m. Sunday to cut the grass on the property with the trailer. Their home is about 75 miles north of Water Valley, where the trailer is located.
Henley said that when he hadn't heard from her by around 6 p.m. Sunday, he got concerned and contacted a friend to look for her. The friend found her bloody body at about 8:30 p.m., but investigators didn't get to her for 90 more minutes, Henley said.
His wife had been shot in the back of the head while her pistol remained holstered, Henley said. He said he was told about the execution-style shooting by personnel with the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation, which is assisting in the investigation.
Henley said he suspects the same person is responsible for both deaths.
Jones' postmortem report from the state medical examiner, a copy of which Henley shared with NBC News, showed no definitive evidence of smoke inhalation and ruled the cause of death as "inconclusive."
Henley said he believes that means she died before the trailer caught fire, and he said fire investigators haven't ruled out arson.
The family's persistence in his sister's death, Henley said, was enough motive for someone to kill his wife.
"They don't want anyone looking. They don't want anyone asking questions, and that's what we were doing. We kicked the hornet's nest," he said. "I'm guessing this guy thought that if he got rid of her, he would get rid of the problem. But he just started a war."
Yalobusha County Coroner Ronnie Stark said this week that Ashley Henley was killed by a gunshot wound and that her death was being investigated as a homicide. He said the investigation into Jones' death continues. The office is awaiting a report from the state fire marshal's office, Stark said.
Stark said he didn't know about any results from that investigation or when it was expected to conclude.
A spokeswoman for the fire marshal's office said Wednesday that the case remains under investigation and that she couldn't comment further.
Henley lamented that his wife's life was cut short. He said she was a great mother and his best friend.
"I'm a disabled veteran. I always thought I'd go before she did," he said, vowing to fight for justice.
"I'm not going away," he said. "I don't care how much money I have to spend. My wife will not die in vain."