Murder of former lawmaker prompts bill that could get state investigators involved in similar cases immediately

Published: Jan. 24, 2023 at 7:30 PM CST
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - One state lawmaker hopes to pass a bill in response to the murder of former Desoto County Representative Ashley Henley who was killed execution-style over a year and a half ago.

The legislation would allow the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation to take the lead in certain death investigations without the request of a local sheriff.

Henley’s murder happened on June 13th, 2021 in Water Valley, at the same location where her sister-in-law was found dead just months before.

Buried Mysteries: The Ashley Henley Investigation

Those closest to Henley – including her colleague Dana Criswell - feel her murder was in response to things she uncovered about her sister-in-law’s death investigation.

“When she was looking into county officials or something going on in the county and now that county is responsible for investigating her murder, it seems to be a little bit of a conflict of interest there,” Criswell said.

That alleged conflict of interest would no longer be of concern for future death investigations of this nature if House Bill 33 is signed into law.

The law would make it to where MBI can step in without the request of a local sheriff if an elected or appointed leader is killed or the circumstances surrounding the official’s death are questionable.

It was filed by Rep. Timmy Ladner who tried passing it last session as well. Ladner says he’s more confident in its chances of becoming law this time around and hasn’t heard any opposition.

“I have been contacted by the Department Public Safety. I think they’re invested in this bill now,” Ladner said. “You look at some of these counties in the Delta who are really poor counties, and MBI would have a whole lot more resources to investigate some of this stuff.”

Currently, Mississippi law says the sheriff isn’t the only official who can ask MBI to step in. In fact, the board of supervisors of any county, the mayor of any municipality, and the governor all have that same authority depending on the circumstances.

But Rep. Dan Eubanks – another colleague and friend of Henley’s – said it’s not that simple.

“You’ve got to look at the politics of the situation. The Board of Supervisors or the mayor wouldn’t want to show a vote of non-confidence in their sheriff or in their police chiefs.”

In other words, the mayor and/or board of supervisors would be implying that they don’t trust their sheriff’s ability to investigate a particular crime. That’s yet another reason why Eubanks would like to see House Bill 33 signed into law.

As for Ladner, he says all three sheriffs in the counties he represents are in support of his bill and say they would’ve asked MBI to lead Henley’s death investigation immediately after it happened.

Why the Yalobusha County Sheriff hasn’t done that is unclear because he still hasn’t returned my calls from this past June and wasn’t available when I called today.

If HB 33 becomes law, it would go into effect in July - just two months after the man accused of killing Ashley Henley goes to trial on May 8th.

His arrest last July was the first major sign of progress that didn’t come until after our investigation into the case.

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