JACKSON, Mich. -- Michigan police say a transgender, gay rights activist tried to fabricate a hate crime by setting his home on fire, but the man's attorney is questioning the evidence.
Attorney Daniel Barnett said the evidence is circumstantial and doesn't provide proof beyond a reasonable doubt that Nikki Joly set the August 2017 fire that killed five pets at his home in Jackson.
The 54-year-old Joly was charged last year with first-degree arson. A hearing is scheduled for March 8 in Jackson County Circuit Court, The Detroit News reported.
"We determined it pretty quickly to be an arson," Elmer Hitt, Jackson's director of police and fire services, said Monday. "We investigated it over what probably was a year's time before the prosecutor ended up issuing charges."
MLive.com obtained the arson investigation report that says gas station surveillance video shows Joly buying gasoline the day of the fire and traces of gasoline was found on his clothes. Phone records and witness statements show Joly was home around the time the fire was set, the report said.
"The timeline shows a window of less than five minutes for another person to enter the residence, splash gasoline around, ignite the fire and then leave without being seen," police detective Aaron Grove wrote in the report.
Hitt declined to provide a potential motive for the arson. Barnett said the lack of motive causes doubt in the prosecutor's case.
"It doesn't make sense," Barnett said. "(Joly) was citizen of the year."
A local newspaper selected Joly as Jackson's citizen of the year in 2018. Joly helped open the city's first gay community center, organized its first gay pride festival and helped pass a nondiscrimination ordinance.
Chicago police last week charged the black and gay "Empire" actor Jussie Smollett with disorderly conduct for falsely reporting a racist and homophobic attack.