Holly Bobo trial: Defendant found guilty of murder, kidnapping and rape
SAVANNAH, Tenn. — More than six years since Holly Bobo disappeared from her home in Tennessee and nearly two weeks into a death penalty trial, a jury has found Zachary Rye Adams guilty of first-degree murder, especially aggravated kidnapping and aggravated rape.
Adams was found guilty of all eight charges against him.
The jury will reconvene at 10 a.m. Saturday to begin the penalty phase of Adams’ trial, and ultimately will determine if he will be sentenced to the death penalty.
It was a crime that rocked a community. Hundreds searched for Bobo through rain and mud. Posters of her adorned light poles and store fronts across the South.
Pink ribbons symbolized the efforts to bring her home.
But after Adams’ arrest in March 2014, green ribbons appeared symbolizing a new hope: “Justice for Holly.”
On Sept. 11, Karen Bobo was one of the first people to take the stand to testify against the man accused of abducting, raping and killing her daughter.
She laid eyes on the tattered purse, wallet and a sandwich she made for Bobo on the day she disappeared — April 13, 2011 — then she collapsed on the stand.
“I feel like I can’t breathe,” Karen Bobo said before Judge C. Creed McGinley ordered the courtroom cleared and paramedics to help her.
It would be the first dramatic day of testimony as old wounds would be reopened.
Prosecutors for the first time laid out the grim details of how they believe a group of men carried out their crime.
Jason Autry would testify that his former friend Adams told him that Adams, Shayne Austin and Dylan Adams kidnapped and raped Holly Bobo, Shelby County District Attorney Paul Hagerman told the jury.
Autry would become “the leader” that morning in an plan to throw Bobo’s body in the Tennessee River near Birdsong.
But they heard a noise. Bobo was still alive.
Autry would testify that Adams got a gun, felt under the blanket to locate Bobo’s head, then fired.
“’I couldn’t have picked a prettier b—-,” Adams is alleged to have told witnesses on more than one occasion. “It was fun.’”
But Adams’ defense attorney Jennifer Thompson would argue that police and prosecutors picked the wrong man.
In their effort to close an investigation that had already turned up wrong suspects, they were on a witch hunt, she would say.
“This was the most expensive and most exhaustive investigation in the history of the state of Tennessee, and yet in 2014, there was nothing,” Thompson said.
A sprawling case
For the next nine days, both sides called over 60 witnesses and entered nearly 250 individual pieces of evidence.
Witnesses testified they had encountered Adams before and after Bobo disappeared, and prosecutors zeroed in on scratch marks on his arms as evidence of Bobo’s last struggle.
The jury learned that Bobo’s class schedule and other items were found near Shayne Austin’s home.
Still, while the other clues left a trail of Bobo’s final journey, it was the discovery of her remains that witnesses say pointed to foul play.
Marco Ross, a forensic scientist who conducted the autopsy, identified a bullet hole that entered the back, right side of the skull and exited through the lower front.
When asked by prosecution for Bobo’s cause of death, Ross said it was unquestionably murder, likely dealt from a .32-caliber weapon.
But the main witness for the prosecution would be Jason Autry, who described the final moments leading up to Holly Bobo’s death in gruesome detail, then the efforts to dispose of her body and cover the trail.
On day four of the trial, Autry would spend nearly seven hours on the stand.
Afterward, Tennessee Bureau of Investigation Special Agent Brent Booth would testify that the answers to the case in hindsight were only too clear, and that a terrible mistake was made.
“We made mistakes that I will take with me for the rest of my life,” the veteran agent said, moved to tears. “But we got the right person.”
In the deluge of tips and other information turned in following Bobo’s disappearance, Booth said agents failed to read memos thoroughly, even when details of the investigation, including tips and items found, pointed directly to the men they would later charge.
“The left hand didn’t know what the right hand was doing,” he said. “We didn’t realize what was there. Their alibis weren’t checked out.”
Booth referred to the alibis of Adams, Autry and Austin.
The prosecution called several witnesses who said they heard Adams confess to Bobo’s killing.
Some said he asked them to pray for him. Others said he boasted about selecting the perfect victim.
But in a surprising twist late in the trial, the former lead investigator in the case of Bobo’s disappearance told the jury that Adams is innocent.
It was a moment that could have planted the necessary seeds of reasonable doubt for a jury charged with deciding Adam’s fate.
Terry Dicus was the TBI’s lead agent in the case from the day Bobo went missing until the summer of 2013, when he was taken off the investigation.
Against the testimony of other witnesses, including Booth, Dicus said Adams was the wrong suspect.
“They kept coming up for stupid reasons,” Dicus said.
After a few looks, Dicus dropped Adams, Austin and Autry and directed the TBI and Federal Bureau of investigation to instead look at convicted sex offender Terry Britt, who already testified as a prosecution witness that he was investigated at length but cleared.
Dicus said Britt matched a physical description of the suspect, his criminal history demonstrated he was capable of kidnapping and Clint Bobo identified Britt’s voice with “80 percent” positivity.
U.S. Marshals Senior Inspector John Walker also told of going to meet Britt in jail at Dicus’ behest.
Walker detailed an almost minute-by-minute account of how certain members of law enforcement, including Dicus, believed Britt had committed the act.
“I told him, ‘I was sent over here by Agent Dicus to see if you wanted to work out some kind of a deal for where Holly’s remains are’,” Walker said. “(Britt) said, ‘It sounds like you’ve got it all figured out.’ I was very surprised by his comment.”
But prosecutor Jennifer Nichols said Dicus’s narrative all came before law enforcement learned of what they said were multiple confessions by Adams, before Bobo’s remains were found and before Jason Autry confessed to taking part in the plan to dispose of Bobo’s body.
Then, in one final twist for jurors to consider, now retired TBI Special Agent-in-Charge for the Criminal Investigation Division Jack Van Hooser described Dicus, who was taken off the Bobo investigation and later left the agency, as an agent who’d gone off the rails.
“He had lost his objectivity,” Van Hooser said. “He had tunnel vi