By Billy Davis
A six-month investigation of a house fire in the Pope community has led to the arrest of a man and wife.
Authorities have charged Fred “Chip” Shirley Jr. and wife Veronika for setting fire to their one-story home at 3149 Pope-Water Valley Road.
The Shirleys are charged with first degree arson, which is the burning of a dwelling, and conspiracy, according to an entry recorded in the Panola County jail log. They were arrested July 22.
A third person, David Jowers, was arrested July 28 and charged with the same crimes. He also lived in the home, authorities said.
Both charges are felonies under Mississippi law. A conviction for first degree arson carries a minimum five-year sentence. A conviction for conspiracy carries no minimum and a maximum of five years in prison.
The arson case has not been presented to a grand jury, said Assistant District Attorney Jay Hale.
Volunteer firefighters from Bynum, Pope and Mt. Olivet departments responded to the blaze on Friday, January 30.
Reached shortly after the fire, Chip Shirley told The Panolian that he and his wife had left the home to run an errand when the fire began.
Arson investigator Justin Maples, who led the investigation, said he arrived on the scene while firefighters were still dousing hot spots. He traced the fire to a hallway closet.
The home was insured through State Farm. Local agent Ray Poole said he had no comment.
Maples said he interviewed “seven or eight” witnesses, and compiled a 30-page report, that led to the arrests.
The state fire marshal’s office assisted in the investigation, he said.