JACKSON, Mich. (WILX) After fire destroyed the home of a Jackson LGBT activist, hundreds of people donated money to help Nikki Joly recover from the huge loss-- today, prosecutors charged Joly with starting it.
The fire on Aug. 10th, 2018 injured two firefighters, and killed two dogs and and three cats inside. Investigators told us they suspected arson the very next day. That didn't stop the community from rallying to raise money for the couple that lived there, but some were always suspicious.
"I was standing outside, right here outside and the house started blazing up," Walter Harrell said.
Walter Harrell lives right next door to where the fire happened. He said it happened quickly, and Joly kept coming back to the wreckage.
"I knew she did it the whole time. She was just suspect the whole time, yeah, and then she would just ride by here everyday," he added.
Harrell says that struck him as odd. Police say that the investigation has been active and ongoing for the last year, but won't say what led them to Joly. Still, they say, Joly has been a suspect for awhile.
"It was determined to be an arson rather quickly, within a few weeks of the actual fire. Joly has been a suspect for the majority of the case," Director of Police and Fire Services for the City of Jackson Elmer Hitt said.
Neighbors who know Joly told News 10 they aren't buying it. Yalanda Harris lives next door to Joly's new house just down the street.
"She is a loving parent to her animals. She has a dog now and is outside with him all the time. She did not do this," she said.
Harris said she helped raise money for the couple after the fire, and has enjoyed their friendship throughout the past year, charges and all.
"I'm supporting her 100 percent. She did not do this."
Police aren't saying what they believe led Joly to start the fire.
Joly's lawyer says there will be no plea bargain and he looks forward to proving his client's innocence.
Joly faces life in prison if convicted of first-degree arson. Joly is due back in court in October.
News 10 will keep you updated on the case as it moves toward trial.