WEST POINT • A Clay County woman will spend the rest of her life in prison after pleading guilty to killing her father-in-law on Thanksgiving 2017.
Latoria Jennae Brownlee, 39, was initially charged with capital murder but pleaded guilty Tuesday to the lesser charge of murder in Clay County Circuit Court. The same day, she was sentenced to life in prison.
Brownlee was accused of starting the Nov. 23, 2017 fire that killed William Brownlee Sr., 63. The elder Brownlee lived in the Washington Street home with his son and daughter-in-law. He was bedridden and was found in bed in his bedroom. West Point Fire Chief Ken Wilbourne said Brownlee was not a smoker and no space heater was found in the room.
According to published reports, Brownlee Sr. was home alone when the fire was first spotted around 4 p.m. Nov. 23. Children playing in the neighborhood spotted smoke and flames pouring from a bedroom window. They told their parents, who called 911.
Neighbors told the Times Daily Leader that Latoria Brownlee arrived at the house about 10 minutes after the fire was reported, while the son, who was further away in Una visiting friends, took longer after being contacted by neighbors about the fire.
While officials suspected foul play immediately, it took nearly a month before an arrest was made. She was booked into the Clay County Jail on a charge of capital murder on Dec. 20, 2017. During her initial court appearance the following morning, she was ordered held without bond.
Scott Colom, the 16th Circuit Court District Attorney, said he pursued the capital murder charge because there was arson and a person died. By pleading guilty to the lesser charge of murder, Brownlee was able to avoid the possibility of facing the death penalty.
Brownlee remains incarcerated in the Clay County Jail and will likely remain there for some time. It usually takes about a month for the Mississippi Department of Corrections to take custody of a local prisoner convicted of a felony. In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, authorities have suspended normal procedures to avoid the spread of the virus.