Nikki Joly, a trans man and leading LGBTI advocate in Jackson, Michigan, faces charges of arson and animal killing.
The incident in question resulted in the loss of his home in summer 2017, killing the five pets he shared with his wife. The two dogs and three cats were inside the property at the time.
Many in the local community at first thought the fire was a hate crime due to Joly’s high-profile campaigning for LGBTI rights in the conservative city.
Nikky Joly campaigns for LGBTI rights and Pride center
Joly, 54, was a well-respected member of the local LGBTI community. One of the causes he helped champion was the passing of non-discrimination ordinance by Jackson City Council in 2017.
In the same year, he also helped open a small, LGBTI pride center in a local church basement.
In late 2017, a local paper honored him with the Jackson Citizen Patriot Citizen of the Year award. The paper gave him his award in recognition of his advocacy work.
However, in August 2017, fire ravaged his home. Joly didn’t own the house. It was insured by his wife (the owner). Joly’s potential motives for allegedly torching the building are unknown.
He appeared in Circuit Court in Jackson, Michigan, on 1 February. Judge John McBain granted a continuance. A hearing to file motions in the case is scheduled for 8 March.
Joly is charged with first-degree arson and two counts of animal killing. He denies the charges.
The Detroit News reports two people who knew Joly telling police Joly had expressed frustration that the subject of LGBTI rights had quietened down following the passing of the non-discrimination ordinance. The local Pride march in August 2017 had also received little attention. The fire at Joly’s home took place five days after the parade.
Joly’s lawyer, Daniel Barnett of Grand Rapids, has dismissed these claims.
‘It doesn’t make sense. He was citizen of the year. There was plenty of media coverage already before the fire.’
‘Use that anger to make change’
Following the fire, Joly and his partner were flooded with donations to help get themselves sorted. In total, supporters donated around $58,000.
A local man, who had written a letter complaining about the erection of a rainbow flag by the city, was questioned as a possible suspect. In a Facebook posting after the fire, Joly urged supporters not to resort to violence in retaliation.
‘Yes, be angry, be very angry,’ Joly wrote. ‘Use that anger to force good! Use that anger to make change.’
However, police later cleared that suspect of involvement. They instead focussed their investigation on Joly.
According to prosecutors, Joly admits buying gasoline on the day of the fire for his lawnmower. Fire investigators found traces of gasoline in several rooms of the house.
He also says he swung by the house shortly before the fire, prior to picking up his wife from her place of work. Minutes after he left, neighbors spotted the fire. Traces of gasoline were also found on Joly’s clothes.
Local community shocked
Joly’s arrest and trial has shocked and angered the local LGBTI community.
‘It’s embarrassing,’ said one local gay resident, Travis Trombley, to Detroit News. ‘How do you do it to the community you have put so much effort into helping?’
Joly’s trial also gained wider attention following the arrest of Jussie Smollett in Chicago. The gay Empire actor and singer faces charges of falsely claiming to have been the victim of a hate-related assault in late January.
H/T: The Detroit News