Zach and Dylan Adams were wrongfully charged with the 2011 murder of Holly Bobo. Zach was convicted in September 2017; Dylan is set to go to trial in spring 2018. Cell phone pings prove conclusively that these men did not abduct Holly.
On April 13, 2011, around 7:45am, 20-year-old nursing student Holly Bobo was abducted by a man wearing camouflage outside her Darden, Tennessee home. Her brother, Clint, awoke to the sound of their dogs barking furiously and witnessed the man walking his sister into the woods.
Holly’s cell phone shows her and her abductor driving north about 20 miles, stopping for 20-30 minutes near I-40, then traveling south again using a different route. Her cell phone was disassembled around 9:25am, and the case went cold. In September 2014, Holly’s partial remains were found by ginseng hunters in a wooded area off of I-40. She had been shot in the back of the head.
Investigators initially focused on a local sex offender named Terry Britt, and for good reason: Britt has a history of stalking and rape; many of the women he stalked were blue-eyed blondes like Holly. Britt matched the physical description given by Clint and Clint identified Britt in a voice line-up. While this isn’t conclusive, Britt also couldn’t be excluded as the source of a handprint on Holly’s car. And lastly, Britt not only didn’t have an alibi for that morning, it appears he attempted to fabricate one. He told investigators that he spent the morning with his wife, who stayed home from work to help him install a bathtub. Upon further investigation, it turns out that his wife actually went to work, but Britt called and made her come home and say that she’d been there the whole time. So, Britt was clearly a good suspect, but the case against him never gelled and he was never charged.
In 2014, for reasons that have never been made public, investigators turned their attention to Zach Adams. But instead of questioning Zach directly, they decided to go through his brother Dylan, who is mentally disabled. Dylan was arrested on unrelated weapons charges by the same prosecutor who was working on the Bobo case.
Dylan was threatened with a lengthy prison sentence, but mysteriously given a plea deal where he avoided jail time, but was required to go live with a retired police officer and Bobo family friend named Dennis Benjamin who Dylan had never met. After five weeks of living with Dylan, Benjamin called 911 to report that he had someone who wanted to confess to the murder of Holly Bobo. Dylan was taken in, and indeed he gave a confession. The problem is that when all was said and done, the confession he gave didn’t match any of the physical evidence. Dylan later recanted and claimed that he’d been coerced, but that faulty confession that had no basis in reality formed the basis for Zach’s arrest.
At this point, they went after the men he was with that day: his brother Dylan, and two friends, Shayne Austin and Jason Autry. During the course of questioning, Shayne Austin was offered total immunity if he would agree to flip on Zach. Shayne agreed, but just like Dylan, he was unable to give them anything useful, and he had no idea where the body was. The prosecution withdrew his immunity and spent the next year trying to charge him with murder until he committed suicide.
Jason Autry held out the longest, swearing over and over that he was innocent.
So what was the evidence against these men? Aside from Dylan’s confession, there wasn’t much of anything.
Trial by media
Prosecutors told the media all about Dylan’s confession. They made sure the media knew that Zach threatened his brother that he’d “put him in a hole beside her,” but in terms of actual forensic evidence, there was nothing. And it’s not just that they were hiding the evidence from the public, they were refusing to turn anything over to the defense. The reality of the situation is they were stalling. It’s not that they were hiding evidence, they were hiding the fact that they didn’t have any. And there’s plenty of evidence to support this.
Playing keep-away with the evidence
Every time there was a hearing where the defense was going to complain about the lack of evidence and may have a reasonable chance of the case being dismissed, something would always happen. They would drop the charges and file something else and that hearing would go away and they wouldn’t have to answer any questions about why they weren’t turning over any evidence to the defense.
They did this a few times, but the most notable example of this involved two other men. In the summer of 2014, a woman came forward claiming that her friend Jeff Pearcy showed her a video of Holly Bobo being assaulted. They arrested Jeff and his brother Mark, who allegedly shot the video. They went crazy trying to find the video and any connection between the Pearcy brothers and the other men, but it never materialized.
Mark Pearcy’s preliminary hearing came. Ostensibly, his attorney was planning to ask for the charges to be dismissed against him because at that point, all they had was hearsay. So the prosecution claimed they “forgot” about the hearing and neglected to arrange transfer for him from the jail. The judge rescheduled the hearing, but the day before that hearing, they dropped the charges. But instead of admitting they had no evidence, they made up some story about how they forgot he had federal charges and invoked some law that doesn’t exist where he can’t have federal and state charges against him at the same time. Eventually the state quietly dropped the case against both brothers, but not after ruining both of their reputations.
Their treatment of the main suspects was even worse. In December of 2014, months after the arrests, the defense attorneys were complaining that not only had they not received the evidence, they hadn’t even received a bill of particulars detailing what the men were being accused of doing. The judge ordered them to turn the evidence and the bill of particulars over now. He set a deadline before the end of the year. At this point assistant district attorney Jennifer Nichols withdrew from the case, leaving DA Matt Stowe. Right after the discovery deadline passed, Stowe withdrew from the case and Jennifer Nichols came back on as lead prosecutor. Matt Stowe never was held in contempt over the issue and although Jennifer Nichols was only off the case for a matter of days, she claimed she needed a couple months to “catch up”, a request that was granted and the prosecution was legally allowed to keep stonewalling the defense.
Nothing can be proven, but it is suspicious that there’s this counsel change and it conveniently makes the discovery deadline go away. Following that heated December hearing, there was a meeting between the prosecutors and the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI), who were responsible for analyzing the forensic evidence. Whatever was said during that meeting was so dramatic that it caused the TBI to pull its services from the entire district. An email was later leaked revealing that Stowe accused the TBI of moving “so slowly that the culprits were always one step ahead and that TBI… was leaking information and possibly covering up evidence”.
So it seems pretty clear that in December 2014, there was no evidence aside from Dylan’s confession, which he had recanted by that point. They continued to stall well into 2015. There was a dispute where the defense opposed Jennifer’s appointment as prosecutor, so she claimed she legally had the right to continue withholding evidence until that was settled. It was just getting silly. This continued well into the summer. The defense filed a motion to dismiss the case on the basis of stonewalling by the prosecution. But surprise, surprise: that hearing was, again, cancelled because they dropped the charges and refilled, this time for first degree murder.
Please keep this in mind when you read about the evidence. It’s not like they arrested and charged them on the basis of solid evidence. Very little of what they used to convict Zach even existed at the time of Zach’s arrest. Even a year later when they were all charged with first-degree murder, the case against them was flimsy at best. They arrested these men on the basis of a faulty confession, then used threats and intimidation to build a case against them.
A deal is struck
In early 2017, just a few months before Zach’s scheduled trial, Jason Autry finally agreed to testify for the prosecution as part of a plea deal that has yet to be disclosed publicly. According to Jason Autry, he himself was not involved in the abduction, and this is one detail that we can be relatively certain of: Jason Autry’s cell phone was pinging from a great distance away from both Holly and the other men at the time of the abduction.
On the stand, Autry claimed that he went to Shayne Austin’s home that morning to buy drugs where he saw Holly’s body wrapped in a multi-colored blanket in the back of Zach’s white truck. Zach, Dylan, and Shayne were there, allegedly disposing of evidence from the crime in a burn barrel. According to Autry, Zach later told him that Zach, Dylan, and Shayne went to the Bobo residence that morning to teach Clint how to make meth. Clint was never asked about this at trial, but he later denied this claim and no evidence was ever presented to substantiate any methamphetamine use by Clint or any relationship between him and these men. When they arrived, Holly allegedly came out of the house “screaming and hollering” and at that moment, they decided to abduct her. She was taken to a local barn that was owned by the grandmother of both Shayne Austin and Jason Autry, who were second cousins. (Note: Jason Autry was also a second cousin to Holly Bobo).
The story told by Autry was extremely inflammatory and included incest between the two brothers. After Autry joined the men at Shayne’s house, Shayne and Dylan stayed behind, while Zach and Autry drove off with the body in the back of Zach’s truck. They drove to a spot along the Tennessee River with plans to dump the body in the river, but as they unloaded her body, they realized she was still alive, so Zach shot her in the back of the head. Fearing that the noise of the gunshot may attract attention, they abandoned their plans and loaded the body back into Zach’s truck. Zach dropped Jason off and Jason wasn’t sure where the body went from that point on.
The prosecution presented some other dubious circumstantial evidence against Zach—but the main issue with the case is that it’s simply impossible for them to have committed this murder.
A problematic case
The first issue, which the prosecution tried to gloss over, was that Clint Bobo gave police a very detailed description of the man who kidnapped Holly and none of these men match that witness description. Clint described the perpetrator as being between 5′10″ and 6 feet tall, weighing 180–200 pounds and having dark hair sticking out from under his cap that was long enough to cover his neck and touch his collar. Clint said the man was wearing a hat and camouflage clothing from head to toe. He described the male voice he heard as a “deep, raspy, smoker’s voice.” As mentioned earlier, Clint identified Terry Britt as being a match to the voice he heard that moment. Since that day, Clint has either heard them speak in court or spoken to each of these men personally and has never identified any of them as having the “deep, raspy, smoker’s voice” that he described that morning. His physical description is even more clearly exculpatory. Jason Autry is out of the question. Not only was his phone pinging many miles away at the time, but he’s 6’8” and was nearly 300lbs at the time. Zach Adams has the right hair color, but he is 6’4” and (due to his meth addiction) was a gaunt 145lbs at the time. The height and weight of Dylan at the time is not known, but he was slim, and didn’t weigh anywhere close to 200lbs.
The only one of them who was about the size that Clint described was Shayne Austin. But he didn’t have a deep voice and he certainly didn’t have collar length dark hair; his hair is short and strawberry blonde.
Now of course, the prosecution tried to get around this exculpatory evidence by presenting a storyline that Clint was somehow involved in his sister’s abduction and was therefore an unreliable witness. It’s pretty heartbreaking: Clint lost his sister and despite compelling evidence that he had nothing to do with it, the state threw him under the bus to convict an innocent man.
But the most compelling exculpatory evidence is the cell phone pings. We know that Holly was attacked sometime between 7:42am and 7:46am. At 7:42am, Holly made her last phone call. At 7:46am, her next door neighbor called his mother to report hearing a scream from Holly’s home; his mother relayed the message to Holly’s mother. At 8:17am, we have the first first cell phone ping away from the home tower. Her cell phone moved north until about 8:30am, stopping for 20-30 minutes near the area off of I-40 where her remains were eventually found. At around 9:00am, her cell phone began traveling south again using a different route, passing through the area where Shayne Austin lives. Two papers belonging to Holly were found on the road in front of Shayne’s home, so the killer likely took this road and disposed of evidence on the way. Her cell phone pinged for the last time at 9:25am in the area where her phone was later found. The SIM card had been removed.
When determining who the killer is, we would expect one of three things:
1. Cell phone pings that match Holly’s exactly
2. No cell phone information at all because the cell phone is turned off, or
3. (If they left their phone at home) a cell phone that never leaves their home tower and isn’t being used by anyone during that time frame.
As mentioned earlier, Jason Autry was miles away. There is no cell phone information for Zach at the time when she was abducted, but at 8:19am, Zach was several miles away from Holly. Her cell phone was on the move at this time, so he almost certainly wasn’t in whatever vehicle was being used to kidnap her.
At 8:28am, when the attacker likely stopped his vehicle to rape and kill Holly, Zach’s cell phone was being actively used and was several miles away from Holly’s cell phone. At 9:00am, Holly’s phone moved closer to Zach’s phone, but they’re still not in the same sector. At 9:10am, their phones finally move into the same sector. This is the first overlap that morning.
How is Zach actively using his phone AND kidnapping Holly Bobo if he’s so far away from her during critical time periods? Zach was convicted and sentenced to life in prison in September, 2017. His brother Dylan will be tried for her murder in spring 2018. The details of Jason Autry’s plea deal have yet to be disclosed.