Buried Mysteries: The Ashley Henley Investigation
WATER VALLEY, Miss. (WLBT) - It’s been over a year since former DeSoto County Representative Ashley Henley was gunned down, yet no progress has been reported in the investigation.
Her murder took place at the same location where her sister-in-law, Kristina Michelle Jones, was found dead just months before.
Those closest to both women say Jones’ death is ultimately what led to Ashley’s.
Jones was found dead the day after Christmas 2020 inside her Water Valley trailer. When emergency crews got to the scene, they found that her mobile home was on fire, which destroyed almost all evidence inside.
The below toxicology report shows no soot was in Jones’ lungs, leading investigators to believe she was dead before the fire and causing Jones’ family to believe she was murdered.
“There were three puddles of accelerant poured throughout the house,” Brandon Henley said. “We do believe one was poured on her, but [investigators] won’t confirm that or deny it. One was poured outside of her room, and one was poured in the living room by the door.”
There were several signs, one of which Jones’ brother, Brandon, just mentioned, pointing to the fact that the fire was not accidental.
Investigators later determined the blaze was, in fact, arson, which led to the arrest of Jones’ neighbor, Billy Brooks.
Brooks later posted a $75,000 bond and is slated to have a jury trial on September 26th.
Aside from arson, no other charges have been filed in the investigation because, to this day, Jones’ cause of death is listed as unknown. This means no criminal charges can be filed.
But if you ask her family, there’s more to the story.
“I think whoever killed my sister is very well connected with officials down there. I think they know,” Brandon said. “I think they have done everything they can to stall and try and make it go away.”
Brandon’s wife, Ashley, agreed, leading the former DeSoto County representative to do some digging of her own.
Those closest to her say the things she uncovered wound up getting her killed.
“It was probably a week to 10 days before she was murdered that I was talking to her on the phone, and she told me, ‘I found something deep,’” Representative Dana Criswell said. “I asked her, ‘What are you finding?’ and she wouldn’t really give me any hints to it, other than the corruption, she said, was ‘deep.’”
What she said afterwards is something the District 6 representative said he’ll never forget.
“Her comment was, ‘What I’m finding... I’m never going to stop. They may try to kill me, but that’s the only thing that’s going to stop me from uncovering this,’” Criswell said.
Rep. Criswell said a lot of the alleged corruption Ashley found went to the grave with her.
“I begged her to tell me, and I told her, ‘I’m not going to give the information out. I’m not going to do anything with it, but you can’t be the only one with that information. If you really believe this is something that is bad enough that someone might try to kill you over it, the only way to protect yourself is to make sure other people have it,’” he said. “She wouldn’t do it because she said, ‘I don’t want to put you or anybody else in danger.’”
However, audio obtained by 3 On Your Side shows some of what Ashley felt was contributing to the delays in her sister-in-law’s investigation.
The audio is part of a meeting that took place June 4th, 2021, between Ashley, her husband Brandon, Brandon’s family, and 17th Circuit Court Assistant District Attorney Steven Jubera.
In this meeting, Jubera confirmed that the last known person to see Jones alive had sex with her hours before she was found dead and also has connections to the Yalobusha County Sheriff’s Department.
WLBT can’t name the individual or disclose the tie for legal purposes, but Ashley felt the connection was strong enough to impact the investigation.
On the other hand, Jubera insisted that there’s many other possibilities.
“It’s very possible that she had a heart attack, which was a natural death. Somebody [could have] started the fire to cover it up because she had sex with one of these individuals that night. It’s very possible that it was a completely accidental fire. It’s very possible that it is a homicide. There are a lot of possibilities,” Jubera said.
Nine days after this meeting, Ashley was maintaining her sister-in-law’s property and was shot in the back of the head.
“Her window was down in her car, but they didn’t take her purse. They didn’t take her sidearm. They didn’t take anything,” Representative Dan Eubanks said. “They walked up behind her, stuck a gun to the back of her head, shot her dead, and left.”
“Where she was was the center of what all of this centered around - the burned-out trailer of her sister-in-law,” Rep. Criswell said. “There’s no doubt in my mind that she was killed because of information she had discovered.”
Over a year since the murder, Brandon said he hasn’t received a single call from the Yalobusha Sheriff’s Department.
“I still don’t have the full autopsy report, I still don’t have the crime lab report, I still don’t have any answers for my son or myself, and I still don’t have any answers for my mom. I mean, we’re not asking for a lot,” he said.
The sheriff’s department also didn’t return any of my calls, leading me to reach out to the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation which is assisting in both cases.
It’s unclear how much of a role MBI is playing in the investigations, but it is clear that the Yalobusha Sheriff’s Department hasn’t asked them to take the lead.
State law prohibits MBI from taking control unless they’re invited to do so by the local entity in charge.
District 25 Rep. Eubanks said he doesn’t understand what the Yalobusha Sheriff’s Department is waiting for.
“With the level of crime, there’s always a backlog. I get it, but I don’t know why the locals haven’t enlisted the help of the state to come in,” he said. “It may be too late now. Enough water has gone under the bridge and enough time has gone by. I don’t know. I don’t know how much they can do.”
Another representative, Timmy Ladner, said several sheriffs across the state have told him they would’ve called in MBI almost immediately in a case like this.
Ashley’s murder was the inspiration behind a bill he filed last session that would allow the agency to get involved without an invite from a local sheriff, if the governor deems the situation a high profile case.
Ladner’s bill never got any traction last session, but if it ends up passing in the coming one, he said he’s strongly considering naming it after Ashley.
“We’re meeting with people every day, and there’s always a lot of folks around who might disagree with us,” Ladner said. “Those things stay in the back of your mind. They stay in the back of mine.”
In the meantime, Ashley’s colleagues continue reflecting on her legacy.
“Ashley was just a tiny, petite thing but just a bulldog when it came to an issue that she was passionate about,” Rep. Eubanks said. “She had a challenging childhood, so she always, I think, had a heart for the underdog and wanted to see people get their due and their justice.”
“She was very much a warrior for those who she felt like she grew up with who were never listened to,” Rep. Criswell said. “That’s really who she wanted to be the voice for, and that’s who she fought for every day was for her people in her district who she felt like were the poorest of DeSoto County to make sure that they had a voice.”
Her husband and son continue pushing on without her.
“We’ve known each other since we were 15 through thick and thin,” Brandon said. “I just had to watch my son graduate high school at 16 years old. All the time and hours my wife pumped into that and I had to stand there without her. I had to watch him go out on his first date. Now, I get to watch him go to college. They robbed her. They robbed him.”
I reached out to the Yalobusha County Sheriff’s Department about a dozen times to talk about these two cases and even went there in person.
Every time I was told the sheriff was not in or was on another call.
MBI also wasn’t willing to provide anything other than the below statement:
“The Mississippi Bureau of Investigation (MBI) is assisting in the case of Ashley Henley and Kristina Michelle Jones. These two cases are open investigations, and no further comment can be made. MBI works closely with federal, state, and local agencies when requested.”
MBI informed Brandon that the state crime lab was running ballistics on Ashley’s handgun to make sure it wasn’t used in the murder. Over a year later, Brandon said he still hasn’t gotten it back.
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