Owner Charged with Burning Down Her Own Store Speaks out to KTVE/KARD

JACKSON PARISH (KTVE/KARD) -- "My whole entire life has been affected by this," said Miriam Kay Gunter of Jonesboro.

The "Deals and Discounts" furniture store between Jonesboro and Hodge burned to the ground on May 5th, a total loss of the building and everything inside.

38-year-old Gunter was the business' owner and, according to the Louisiana State Fire Marshal's Office, she's also the prime suspect.

Fire Marshals issued a warrant for her arrest Thursday night and Gunter said when she found out, she went to the Jackson Parish Courthouse.

"When I found out that it was an actual warrant, I called a bondsman and I met him at the courthouse and I immediately posted bond," Gunter said.

She is charged with Arson with Intent to Defraud.

Gunter said she posted her $10,000 bond and now she's speaking out to KTVE/KARD, saying the State Fire Marshal's Office is trying to push a conviction on her.

"He's more looking at it from needing, wanting a conviction on this than he is really taking the facts, the very important facts in this," said Gunter.

State Fire Marshal Deputy Chief Brant Thompson said they're not rushing anything.

"We're very comfortable with where we are in this case. If we were not, we would not have presented an affidavit before a judge and the judge certainly wouldn't have issued a warrant for her arrest," Thompson said.

Gunter said the State Fire Marshal's Office is not looking at facts like the faulty air conditioning system in the store or the large hole in one of its walls, possible places where a fire could have been started.

Authorities said those have been ruled out.

"We were able to exclude all possible accidental fire causes as well as natural causes," said Deputy Chief Thompson.

Thompson also said they have evidence placing Gunter at the store the night of the fire.

Gunter said she doesn't deny that, but she also said she left the store before the flames started and didn't go anywhere near where firefighters said the fire started.

"They've determined that the fire started in the warehouse. I went in to the middle of the store, went to the front counter, got my daughter's medication and exited the store," Gunter said. "My hope was is that the surveillance would have been turned over and would have been forensically looked at but, according to the insurance company and the people who did look at it, it's burned."

Authorities also claim Gunter had motive.

"The insurance exposure there was in excess of $1 million. She stood to gain a significant amount of money," Thompson said.

To that, Gunter said she never once had that desire.

"I had nothing to do with destroying something that I've worked very hard to get. It took 12 years to get it to where it was at and I know my sales were at a peak," she said.

Gunter said she will continue to fight for her defense.

"If this continues to go to court, trial, whatever, I'll continue to pray that the truth will come out," she said.

The State Fire Marshal's Office tells KTVE/KARD now they will begin a forensic examination of Gunter's business records.

Jackson Parish Sheriff Andy Brown said Gunter's first appearance in court is set for August 5th, but Jackson Parish District Attorney Jonathan Stewart said no formal arraignment has been set yet.

If convicted, Thompson said Gunter could face up to five years of hard labor and a $10,000 fine.

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